Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2012 with funding from
Media History Digital Library
By HOMER CROY
Books Made into Motion Pictures
West of the Water Tower
They Had to See Paris
(Will Rogers' first talking picture)
Down to Earth
(Will Rogers as star)
(made into a motion picture under the title
Vm from Missouri)
(Alice Brady as star)
The Story of D. W. Griffith
by HOMER CROY
Introduction by MARY PICKFORD
DUELL, SLOAN AND PEARCE
Copyright © 1959 by Homer Croy
All rights reserved. No part of this book in excess
of five hundred words may be reproduced in any form
without permission in writing from the publisher.
Croy, Homer, 1883- Star maker; the story of D. W. Griffith. Introd. by
Mary Pickford. [1st ed.] New York, Duell, Sloan and Pearce 
210 p. illus. 21 cm. 1. Griffith, David Wark, 1875-1948. 1. Title.
PN1998.A3G73 927.92 59-6691 + Library of Congress
Thanks are due to Harper & Brothers for permission to quote a passage
from Tallulah, My Autobiography, by Tallulah Bankhead. Copyright,
1952, by Tallulah Bankhead.
MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
VAN REES PRESS • NEW YORK
Introduction by Alary Pickford xi
i. Born on a Farm Seventeen Miles from Louisville,
2. He Directs His First Picture 19
3. His Secret Marriage Continues 41
4. He Makes a Two-Reel Picture— the Management
Is Shocked 55
5. He Longs to Be an American Ibsen 68
6. He Makes a Four-Reeler 80
7. He Makes The Birth of a Nation 94
8. He Goes Home to Visit His Mother 1 1 1
9. The Story Behind the Making of Intolerance 1 18
10. He Goes to France to Make a Propaganda Picture
for the Allies 1 3 2
11. He Has a Tremendous Success in Broken Blossoms 142
12. He Has Another Success in Way Doiim East 149
1 3 . He Starts Downhill 1 59
14. Talking Pictures Come In 175
15. He Returns to Hollywood with High Honors, but
No Job 187
16. The Forgotten Man
following page 50
"Mr. D. W." as an actor
Young Ben Alexander with Griffith
Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and Griffith
Griffith the director
Mae Marsh in The Birth of a Nation
The Reverend Thomas E. Dixon
Henry B. Walthall
Lillian Gish in The Birth of a Nation
Linda Arvidson in As the Candle Burns
Carol Dempster and W. C. Fields
Griffith at his second wedding
Griffith and his bride
The family tomb
The house Griffith bought for his mother
I AM PLEASED THAT I CAN PASS ALONG TO THE
reading public the first story of the life of David Wark Griffith.
He lived in a blaze of publicity for his stars and his stories, but
he told little of himself, especially of his early life; nothing of
his personal life. He had a secret marriage; he spoke not at all
of this. In fact most people thought he was a bachelor. And, in
one sense, he was.
I met him only once. I spent an evening with him when he
was just starting to make The Birth of a Nation. I was repre-
senting Leslie's Weekly; no wonder he gave me so much time,
for it was for this magazine that he had written his one pub-
lished poem-'The Wild Duck." He didn't mention the poem,
but I expect during the evening he thought of it many times.
Strangely enough, I cannot remember one important thing he
said; and the piece I wrote is so inane that I hope no human
eye ever falls on it again. I certainly did not realize that he
would become a world figure, and that someday I would be
attempting to tell his story. And I don't think he had the
faintest idea then that he would become a world figure, espe-
cially in a medium that later he came to despise.
I have had access to his autobiography which is still in
manuscript form. It deals with his early days, for he never
finished it. It does, however, give some vivid pictures of his
life as a farm boy.
The intimate material in this book has come from people
who knew him. He was strangely uncommunicative about
himself. As an example, when he first came to New York he
couldn't land a job as an actor, so he got one working in the
subway that was being built; his special assignment was wield-
ing a pick and shovel. He told his brother Albert L. Griffith
about this, but mentioned it only once. And he told Evelyn
Griffith, and one or two others. That was all.
He made eighteen stars:
Henry B. Walthall
He launched, or furthered, the film careers of:
Erich von Stroheim
Sir Herbert Beerbohm-Tree
Ruth St. Denis
W. C. Fields
I want to thank his family (I've gone into detail on the last
page) and I want to thank his widow, Mrs. D. W. Griffith,
who lives in New York. And I want to thank Lillian Gish,
Dorothy Gish, Mary Pickford, Anita Loos, Mae Marsh,
Richard Barthelmess ... the latter dodged me for three months
before I nailed him. And I want to thank Richard Griffith
(no relation), curator of the Film Library of the New York
Museum of Modern Art. And I'll be dogged, if he didn't
jump up and run off to Brazil, just as I started to pump him.
I had to wait seven weeks, but I got him.
And I want to thank the people on the Louisville, Ken-
tucky, Courier-] our nal who told me where to spade, especially
Boyd Martin, who knew Griffith for thirty years; and James
S. Pope, who knew him for ten. And those mint juleps in
Louisville. I've never had one before on its native heath. I want
to thank them. I am now speaking of the juleps.
I don't seem to be doing a very good job of thanking people
and giving credits, but I thank them in my heart, and say again
I'm glad I can set down this brief history of a great man and
a tragic figure.
Personal: I'd like to add that I had something to do with
the early days of motion pictures and knew a bit of their
history. In 19 14 1 made a trip around the world for Universal,
making travel films. In those days travel pictures had little ap-
peal, so the ones I made were released as half -reel subjects,
under the name Joker Comedies, of all things. But that was
the way things were done in those days. I was in China when
the war broke out. Later, I traveled through India making
motion pictures of the war preparations (no censor then).
In 19 1 5, when I was married, Universal News Reel (edited
by Jack Cohn) made pictures of our wedding. Ours was the
first wedding ever shown on the screen. (I've still got her.)
In 19 1 8, I wrote the first book on the making of motion
pictures: Honjo Motion Pictures Are Made. The other day,
when I was getting ready to write this foreword, I reread the
book. I was shocked. The book was as out-of-date as a whip-
During the First World War, I was a civilian attached to
the Signal Corps as a motion-picture expert. I was in the Pathe
Laboratory outside of Paris. I knew little or nothing about
motion pictures, but this wasn't too embarrassing, for no one
knew much either about combat pictures or about pictures
of training or service of supplies.
I suppose all this drew me to attempt a life of the Great Film
By Mary Pickford
When I met the fabulous David Wark
Griffith I was far from being awed. Truthfully, I held not
only him but everyone else connected with the despised
"flickers" in complete contempt.
Perhaps this insufferable attitude could be partially ex-
plained by the fact that I lacked but a few days of my fifteenth
birthday. As you may imagine, I have had my well deserved
comeuppance since— and trust that I now view the world with
more tolerant eyes and, above all, give full credit to the great
genius of D. W. Griffith. I am only one of many whom he
sponsored and who owe him profound gratitude. He devel-
oped innumerable revolutionary ideas that changed the entire
movie-making technique— many of which are still being used
today. It would take not just one but many volumes, as I see
it, to recount his brilliant contributions adequately.
He asked me exactly what experience I had had in the
theater and I replied haughtily, "Only ten years, sir!" He said,
"You don't look that old— but I think I will introduce you to
the camera," and he did.
From that moment on I was to learn that this extraordinary
man had been chosen to usher into the world a new medium
that would give world-wide entertainment and exert a tre-
mendous and exciting influence upon the world's thinking and
habits. This new medium developed into a great ambassador
for our Uncle Sam and a truly far-reaching salesman of our
American way of life.
I see D. W. now, standing beside the camera, a lean, hawk-
like individual with an old straw hat, the top unraveled (he
believed the sun would stop him from losing his hair). He
wore a large, black, Chinese prayer ring, which he constantly
twirled while directing us, and at the same time he jingled
silver coins in his trouser pocket. Eccentric? Yes. But certainly
no poseur. D. W.'s presence was magnetic. Nothing before or
since has given me the warm satisfaction of a performance
that pleased Mr. Griffith.
You may ask, "Did you have fun?" Of course we did. But
we were all young and full of the zest of life and creation.
We had our tragedies, especially when our performances did
not measure up to what was expected of us. Then, too, there
was keen rivalry and jealousy over the plum roles we felt
would advance us artistically.
Mr. Griffith kept us on the qui vive by pitting our talents
and temperament one against the other. As I look back along
the many years, I realize that David Wark Griffith was a great
virtuoso who played on the heartstrings of his actors. No one
during my entire career ever reached me, mentally or emo-
tionally, as he did. Sometimes he would say while directing
me, "Pickford, you read my thoughts," and I believe I actu-
It was a great sadness to me and all those who knew and
loved him and respected his tremendous contribution to the
motion-picture industry, that Mr. Griffith, during the latter
part of his life, was so neglected and so tragically ignored by
the industry that he greatly helped to create. But I recall that
he was an extremely sensitive and proud Kentuckian who
would not for an instant tolerate anything that he thought
even remotely resembled condescension on the part of others.
Were it possible to roll back the years it would be a joyous
moment to hear that sonorous voice call out, "Bitzer— camera—
Pickford— enter, and remember not to take up too much film
in doing what you rehearsed. Film footage costs money."
But perhaps where he and the beloved Billy Bitzer are now,
they have that big Biograph camera greatly improved and are
preparing stunts for the old Biographers when we arrive over
there. I devoutly hope so.
Sentimental? Why not?
BORN ON A FARM SEVENTEEN
MILES FROM LOUISVILLE,
David Wark Griffith was tall and thin,
with a large, bony nose, which he tried to make less noticeable
by wearing a wide-brimmed floppy hat. He wore the hat
almost constantly, indoors and out, this so that his nose would
not be so conspicuous. If someone mentioned his nose, he would
call it his "Duke of Wellington" nose. In addition, he had an
unusually wide mouth and a long, narrow chin. It all added up
to make him a striking-looking man.
He looked upon himself as an aristocrat. His family had been
plantation and slave owners. His mother's people— the Oglesbys
—were an important family.
His father was a colonel in the War Between the States and
was known as "Roaring Jake," a large man who got the name
from the way he bellowed out his commands. Once he was
leading the First Kentucky Cavalry near Charleston, Tennes-
see, when he was shot off his horse and was wounded so badly
that he could not get back on again. A man with a horse and
buggy started to dash past, wanting to get out of the business
as fast as he could. Colonel Griffith drew his pistol and ordered
the man to get out and help him in, which the man had sense
enough to do. Then, picking up the lines, Colonel Griffith led
a cavalry charge— the first time in history an officer ever led
4 Star Maker
his men in a charge in a buggy. The son was very proud of
this and had it chiseled on his father's tombstone, and there it is
today in the Mount Tabor Methodist graveyard, in the com-
munity known as Crestwood, seventeen miles from Louisville,
Kentucky, where young David was born on January 22, 1875.
There were, in all, eight children. David was the next to
youngest. Rearing eight children, after the destruction brought
about by the Civil War, was a problem. Albert L. Griffith was
the youngest, and he, as I write, is still living, and to him I owe
much for rebuilding those early days.
The father loved Shakespeare and liked to put on "read-
ings." This he did at the schoolhouse, at the church, and in his
own home. There he would stand— this big-bodied man-
delivering Shakespeare. Young David was tremendously im-
pressed by these recitals; and he was tremendously impressed
by his father.
The story of the family, after the war, was like that of
thousands of others in the South. Before the War Between the
States it had been a prosperous family. After the war, it was
impoverished. The family had had slaves, and again, like a tale
of the old South, the slaves faithfully remained with the
family. Another bit of similarity to the accepted tale of the
South— young David had a "mammy" to take care of him.
A southern gentleman did not work in the fields. And this
the old colonel never did; he "bossed" the colored help. But
now there was no colored help; the family was so poor that the
former slaves had to strike out for themselves. On top of this,
the old colonel had other troubles. His war wounds grew worse.
He was elected to the Kentucky legislature but could not at-
tend all the sessions because of his wounds. Finally he was
confined to his home. Young David— he was never called
Davey— would sit beside the chair where his father was propped
Born on a Farm 5
among the cushions, and listen to his father read. His father no
longer could put his great fervor and passion into the readings.
Sometimes his voice would trail off.
When the boy was ten years old his father died. David did
not become the head of the family, but he did become the head
dreamer. The family said he was "impractical." He could
never quite drive a nail straight; and he couldn't saw a board
without the blade heading for parts unknown.
The school David attended was a part log, part sawed-board
building, about sixteen feet square, with the chinks between
the logs filled with hard yellow clay. The room was heated by
a wood-burning stove— the children nearest it suffocating, the
ones farthest away shivering. Water was carried from a well
about a hundred yards away, a bucket at a time. The bucket
was placed on a shelf; in the bucket was a tin dipper, used by
all. When a child did not drink all he had dipped up, he poured
the remainder back into the bucket.
One of the games was "Black Alan." Two or three of the
older and stronger children stood off all the rest. The others
were put into two lines, facing each other. The leader of
the two strong children would approach the line, with most
of the school in it, and say, "What will you do if you see the
Black Man coming?"
The others would shout, "Run right through, like a white
man," and then all would trv to run through to the bases, or until
thev were tasked. The children considered it great fun; the
mothers considered it great work, what with buttons being
ripped off and clothes torn.
At recess time, when the children were not playing, the bovs
whittled out forks for slingshots, made whistles out of slippery
elm, or dolls out of acorns. The dolls had natural noses owing
to the shape of the acorns, a slit for a mouth, and tinv beads for
6 Star Maker
eyes. When a boy had an acorn doll nicely fashioned, he would
give it to his girl.
Reading and elocution were the subjects stressed; much time
was spent on what was called "articulation, inflection, and
emphasis." The last Friday afternoon of every month the
parents came in to attend "the exercises." This was little David's
chance; he liked to "recite," and this he did, loud and con-
fidently. A poem that was recited again and again by the
"scholars" was "The Ballad of the Tempest," which went:
And as thus we sat in darkness,
Each one busy in his prayers,
"We are lost," the Captain shouted
As he staggered down the stairs.
But his little daughter whispered
As she took his icy hand,
"Isn't God upon the ocean
Just the same as on the land?"
Once young David recited this with such great feeling that
one of the visiting women wept openly. The boy was, for a
time, the school hero.
One morning, as he was walking across the fields to school,
he came to the creek the banks of which were lined with
willows. There had been a sleet storm the night before, and
the limbs of the willows were bent down; the morning sun
was shining on them and giving off reflections. He stopped to
admire the shimmering spectacle. As he did so, he was shaken
through and through, for there was the face of Christ. He
stood transfixed, held by something bigger than himself. Why
should Christ suddenly show himself to him, a lone bov? Was
it a sign? He started on again, plodding his way across the
fields. So deep, so personal, so moving was the experience that
he mentioned it to no one.
Born on a Farm 7
It was not long before the boy had mastered all that the
school could offer. His real education was conducted by his
sister Mattie, who was a better teacher than any who had served
at the country school. It soon developed that the boy liked
"stories"— the novels of Thackeray and Sir Walter Scott and
Dickens. And he liked American history. He liked stories of
"the war"— especially when the South was shown as being
"Someday David will be a great man," said "Miss" Mattie.
Of course, she was his sister.
David worked in the fields (as little as he could) and read
with a kind of fierce passion; a new world— his dream world-
floated about him.
When he was seventeen, the family gave up the ghost. The
"goods" were stored in three wagons and the long trip to
Louisville began. One of the wagons was in command of
David— this wagon had more articles fall off and become lost
along the way than either of the other two wagons. David, in
the front seat, saw nothing, heard nothing, dreamed every-
The family lived first at 1 2 1 West Chestnut Street in Louis-
ville; they moved to 625 First Street, then to 414 East Gray
Street, then to 930 Fifth Street, then to 423 West Chestnut,
then to 330 West Fourth Street— each house was shabbier than
the one they'd left. The family wasn't alone in this, for other
families had had to pull up their roots and try to survive in
new locations. There was no complaining among the members
of the Griffith family; they'd get along, some way or other.
Young David accepted this; he'd get along some way or other,
too. He was tall and "gangling" and there was that great hump
of a nose, that wide mouth, that long chin.
Work! Thought had to be given to that. A magazine called
8 Star Maker
The Western Recorder was published in Louisville by the
Baptist Book Concern. The magazine had been one of his
reading sources, and he took himself there as fast as he could.
Yes, they needed help, they said. He was delighted. However,
it turned out the job was not to write for the magazine, but to
sell subscriptions and books. A little cold water, here. How-
ever, arrangements were made. A horse and buggy were pro-
vided by the company, and the young salesman started out
blithely to conquer the world.
One of the books published by the company was Should
Women Speak in Mixed Assemblies? The book said they
shouldn't. The publishers told him there would be a brisk
demand for this helpful book. The demand, however, turned
out to be far from brisk; in fact, the book was a drug on the
market. Another book was Talks on Getting Married by
T. T. Eaton, D.D., LL.D. In spite of the words of wisdom
by the learned author, the demand for this book also was ex-
ceedingly modest. It soon developed that the women wanted
to speak anywhere they chose without anyone telling them
whether they could or not; and they didn't seem to give a fig
about marriage. This was shocking. So he had to add to his
sales list the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He was given sample
pages and sample bindings and was told to commit to memory
the printed sales talk, which was guaranteed to open any
pocketbook. Something was fundamentally wrong with the
printed sales talk, for pocketbooks didn't open as had been
promised. Up and down the hills and back roads of Jefferson
and Oldham counties he went, telling farmers how the maga-
zine would help them lead a Christian life and how the ency-
clopaedia would educate their children. The farmers said they
didn't care whether they led a Christian life or not, and that
their children had just as good a chance to get an education as
Born on a Farm 9
they'd had, and so, after a time, young Griffith gave up and
let the children root for themselves.
(Note: The magazine is still being published, but the book
Should Women Speak in Mixed Assemblies? is no longer
available, thus leaving the matter unsettled.)
He got a job running an elevator in the John C. Lewis De-
partment Store. To make the elevator go, he pulled a rope. To
make it stop, he gave it a tug and the elevator jarred to a
clanking standstill. While waiting for customers he read. He
had a stool to sit on; when customers came, he stood up,
turned his book face down on the stool, and gave the damned
rope a yank.
At night, when he went home, he read poetry. He espe-
cially loved Browning and Leaves of Grass. And then, alone in
his room, he began to write poetry. It can be seen he was
headed for no good end.
Deep in him was this desire to write. He would tell of the
great injustices in the world. He would tell the truth about
the Civil War. He would show how the South had been
He did not get into high school, but this gave him no sense
of inferiority. He had read more than any other boy he met;
indeed, he looked down on the other boys of his age. His
confidence in himself was supreme. He was a genius. He would
accomplish great things. He was that young.
One day a reporter came to the store to bag a bit of news.
David was fascinated. It would be wonderful if he could earn
money by going around and asking questions. He waited till
the reporter started out, then shyly edged up to him.
"Do you think I could get a job on the paper writing
things?" he asked.
"You might," said the man, amused by the boy's earnestness.
io Star Maker
"I'll tell you the man to see." He wrote a name. "You ask
The boy was in an ecstasy of delight. A reporter! Paid to
He applied for and, what is more surprising, got the job.
He was to pick up bits at police headquarters, bits the real
reporter had overlooked. It wasn't long till the drama critic
wanted somebody to help him and David was sent to the
theater to write a review. A new world opened like a door.
He saw Julia Marlowe in Romola and was carried away. If
he could only write stories like this!
He spoke of his ambitions to Adolph Lestina, a member of
the Meffert Stock Company; instead of laughing at him, as
some people might have done, Lestina encouraged the boy. He
said, "You can't write stories for the stage unless you know
the stage thoroughly. Most of the great playwrights have been
actors. Shakespeare was. Moliere was. Dion Boucicault was."
The boy looked at Lestina, deeply thankful.
He went to the manager of the company and applied for
an acting job. The manager looked him over and gave him a
job— thus shaking hands with History.
He was given the role of an aristocrat. To him this didn't
seem out of keeping. His family were aristocrats. War had
taken their money, but it hadn't taken their superiority. That
was in their bones, as is marrow.
"What name do you want to use?" the manager asked.
This brought David up against the realities. He certainly
didn't want to use his own, the name he was so proud of—
the family which could trace itself back to early Welsh kings.
One of the ancestors was Lord Brayington, who came to
America with the Virginia Colony.
Born on a Farm 11
"David Brayington," answered the young actor-to-be like
He would write his plays under his own name, but he would
never act under it.
Then came the great day when David Brayington walked
out on the stage, in the Temple Theatre, in Louisville, and
acted. The audience took it with amazing calmness. But young
David didn't. He was on his way to becoming a playwright.
People would hear of him.
Daytime he ran the elevator; at night he acted. And wrote
poetry. He got plays from the library and studied them as
if they were lessons. But he told no one of his ambitions. This
was too sacred; one never told what was deepest in him.
In The Lights o' London he played a comedy part; the
audience took it seriously. But that was all right with David
Brayington; he was learning how to put plays together. What
he liked most of all was to watch how the director got certain
He was accepted as a member of the Meffert Stock Com-
pany! Oh, happy day! Lestina took him into his own dressing
room, and taught him make-up, and told him things, as an
actor, he could do and things to avoid. More than ever
Griffith looked up to the great man.
He changed his name to Lawrence Griffith; he would save
his full and proper name for his plays. The people in the
company called him "Larry."
He got a job in Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson. He played
the part of the Indian. His interpretation gave a new insight
into the American Indian.
He played any number of small parts. He knew he was not
going to make a career of acting; he was only learning plays
so he could, when the time came, do something more impor-
12 Star Maker
tant. He continued all season with the stock company. In
Trilby he played the clergyman— very convincingly, said the
kind manager. Finally he joined the Ada Gray traveling com-
pany. That was getting up in the world— a traveling actor! —
and left Louisville for the first time. He would come back to
the city, famous, he promised himself. It was not long before
he was with Walker Whiteside, who played mostly in the
Middle West. One day, in a fit of temper, Whiteside told the
boy he would never be an actor. Griffith was not too deeply
hurt; he knew what he was doing.
In The Ensign he was asked to play the part of Abraham
Lincoln. The last man in the world he wanted to play was
Abe, the Abolitionist. But he did play it, and when he got
into the part, he formed a grudging liking for Lincoln.
He was in a dozen plays but did not do well. He was stiff
and mechanical and played every part the same. But he was
doing the thing that was dearest to him: he was studying how
to write plays; and when he wrote them, they would deal with
mighty themes. One would deal with man and his place in the
universe. He thought big thoughts— he would write big plays.
And then came an exceedingly good piece of luck. He got
into Nance O 'Neil's Touring Stock Company. The great
Nance O'Neill One of the plays she put on was Elizabeth \
Queen of England. The play fascinated him; it was big, im-
portant, dramatic. That was the way he thought, he told him-
self. It got to Los Angeles where it opened at the Mason
Opera House January 29, 1906. He played the part of Sir
Francis Drake. The somewhat stunned audience said they had
never dreamed Sir Francis Drake was that kind of man.
He met Linda Arvidson Johnson who was playing at the
Burbank Theater in Los Angeles under the name of Linda
Arvidson. She was dashing and pretty. Sir Francis Drake
Born on a Farm 13
began to think of other things than the fate of England; in
fact, he began to think of his own fate.
His play moved to San Francisco where it developed a fever
and soon was sick unto death. In fact, it died. Lawrence
Griffith had to get a job, and this he managed to do in the hop
fields in California. It was a comedown from being Sir Francis
Drake to being a hop picker.
He still believed that to be a successful playwright one first
had to be an actor. He had started two plays, but they had
developed fevers. He had a new idea: he'd write a story about
hop picking. He had formed the habit of working in secret
at night; these were his golden hours— alone with his manu-
scripts and his dreams. The new play told very much his own
story. A young man from Kentucky met a girl in San Fran-
cisco. But the young man fell upon hard times and had to go
to work in the hop fields at Ukiah to keep body and soul to-
gether. He met rugged characters who sang enchanting Mexi-
can songs. Finally the young man raised enough money to
take the girl to a night club in San Francisco rejoicing in the
name of The Bull Pup. In such exciting surroundings the
lovely girl could no longer rebuff the earnest young man and
all was well. The hop fields would have to look after them-
In a fever of excitement he bundled up A Fool and a Girl
and sent it to James K. Hackett who was thrilling audiences
in The Frisoner of Zen da. In a few days he would hear from
Mr. Hackett and Mr. Hackett would say Yes.
Good luck came and took him by the hand. He was offered
a job to return to the stage and this he did, and in the play was
Linda Arvidson. The play went on tour. The company was
not so good as the Nance O'Neil company had been. It began
to have more ups and downs than a seesaw, but finally it got
14 Star Maker
to Boston and there, May 14, 1906, Linda and David were
married, just as had happened so charmingly in A Fool and a
Girl. This was fine and dandy, but the play wasn't, and, in
no time at all, it failed. Linda, being an actress, thought actors
were more important than writers. Sometimes the two argued
about this— writer versus actor.
Meantime, David Griffith was writing poems and short
stories which came back with the instinct of homing pigeons.
New York was the place to get an acting job, and so the
two of them came to New York and began to knock at doors
which remained closed as tight as bank vaults.
Then suddenly, and in a dazzle of light, something won-
derful happened. Leslie's Weekly accepted a poem! David got
a copy from the newsstand and there was the poem and there
was the name he was so proud of— David Wark Griffith. He
seemed to be floating, so excited, so exalted was he. He hurried
to their small apartment on East Thirty-seventh Street. Some
writers might have shown the poem to a wife with a casual, I-
just-tossed-it-off air, but not David Griffith. It was a great, a
tremendous moment, and he meant to squeeze it.
u There it is with the name I'm going to make famous."
"You mean by writing?" she asked.
"Yes— plays— important plays, not the silly girl-meets-prince
plays that the stage is inflicted with. I've got something to
say and I'm going to say it. I have genius and I'm not afraid
to say so."
"At least you've got self-confidence."
And then he told her the thing that was deepest in him.
The nights he had sat up after she had gone to bed he had been
writing a play— "the play of the ages," he said. "I've decided
to call it The Treadmill."
"Isn't that a gloomy title?"
Born on a Farm 15
"It shows it's a serious play and it's a title that means some-
thing. The play deals with man's progress from the time he
crawled out of the primordial sea."
"There you go again, with your big words. I hope you sell
it." There was a pause. "David, you're always exercising with
those Indian clubs and in your underwear. It's not very appe-
tizing. I wish you'd stop."
"I need the exercise, Linda. I'll try to pick times when
you're not here."
"I wish you would, David. It gets on my nerves."
He was shocked by her casualness about his play. "I'll sell
it all right. Now, Miss Linda, do you want the son of Roaring
Jake to recite the poem aloud, with gestures?" he asked in his
"David, I want to move. Those clotheslines in the back
yard depress me. When I look out, that's all I can see— ragged
shirts and patched underwear till it sickens me."
"I'll be making money soon, Linda, and then off* to the
races! x\re you ready?"
He was proud of his resonant voice— Nature might have
been careless in the matter of his nose, but she had made up
for her remissness by giving him a splendid, rich voice.
He read the poem with earnestness and feeling.
"How do you like it?" he asked when he finished.
"It's very interesting. You always like lamb chops and
that's what I've got for you tonight. I'll put them on."
"Now I'll read it like an old-time darky would read it.
Y'know, I was raised by an old colored mammy. I loved her."
He began to burlesque the poem.
In a moment she was laughing. "Do you know that I
16 Star Maker
never really knew a southerner till I met you? You're all South
and I'm all San Francisco. I'm going to pull down the shade,
even if it does smoke up the apartment. I just can't stand those
"Don't pay any attention to them. Think high thoughts and
perform noble deeds. You want the wild duck to soar again?"
"I've heard it once."
"Remember, that wild inhabitant of the circumambient
atmosphere brought us six dollars!"
"That's not much."
"Edgar Allan Poe got ten dollars for 'The Raven.' "
As she busied herself in the cramped kitchen, he sat enjoy-
ing himself, looking at the poem.
The poem appeared January 10, 1907.
Look— how beautiful he is!
Swift his flight as a bullet
As he comes in from the sea in the morning.
For the wind is from the sea in the morning.
See! He is bound for the hilltops,
The gold hilltops, the gold hilltops.
There he will rest 'neath the flowers,
The red flowers— the white and the red,
The poppy— the flower of dreams,
The crimson flower of dreams.
There must be rest in the morning.
Happy wild duck! Happy wild duck!
For the wind is from the sea in the morning.
So will he rest 'neath the roses,
The red roses, the love roses,
And their petals will fall around him,
Sweet and warm around him,
Closer and closer around him,
Warmer and warmer around him,
Till even in the daytime the stars shall
Bom on a Farm 17
Happy wild duck! Happv wild duck!
For the wind is from the sea in the morning.
There by the roses bloom the lilies, the
flowers of peace,
The white flowers of peace,
Red and white together, red and white and red,
Waving and blowing together.
Blooming and waving together
On the gold hilltops in the morning,
For the wind is from the sea in the morning.
Ah me! but the wind soon changes in these
Ah me! Ah me!
It was not so in the old davs.
Look, look, ah, look, see, even now it is
changing out, out to the sea!
Look, look, above the hilltops,
With eves turned back to the mainland.
And tired wings wearily beating, but vainly,
For the wind blows out to sea in the
Poor little wild duck! Poor little wild duck!
Look, there is crimson, warm on his breast!
Look, red drops fall from his breast!
Poor little wild duck! Poor little wild duck!
In the evening.
For the wind is out to the sea in the evening.
Look! He is falling, falling out to the sea.
Ah, there is mist on the sea!
There is always mist on the sea in the evening.
Perhaps his nest is bevond, I know not;
Perhaps it is built of the mist I know not.
Only with tired wings wearily beating.
And eves turned back to the mainland.
To the red and white and red,
Waving and blowing together,
Blooming and blowing together.
He is falling' out, out to the sea.
18 Star Maker
Poor little wild duck! Poor little wild duck!
In the evening when the wind blows out to the sea!
Ah me! Ah me! Ah me!
In the evening when the wind blows out to the sea.
The poem was wonderful.
HE DIRECTS HIS FIRST PICTURE
Why he'd been an actor ten years! He was
now thirty-two years old and hadn't accomplished much, he
told himself. But he would! His years on the stage had taught
him the fundamentals of playwriting; soon he'd sell a play.
Then the two of them could give up the miserable business
Meantime, he and Linda tramped Broadway, but those grim
vault doors remained closed. It was the old, old story: America
was filled with touring stock companies with people not good
enough to play on Broadway. There was no opening. But it
wasn't completely bad, David told himself. Other actors
couldn't get jobs, either; and they didn't know how to write
plays. His sword had a double edge. Someday he would slash
Broadway from end to end.
And then came a monstrous stroke of good fortune. James
K. Hackett accepted A Fool and a Girl— not only that, but
agreed to pay an advance of seven hundred dollars.
"We can give up acting," he cried.
"We'd better hold on," said prudent Linda. "We haven't
landed jobs yet."
"We don't need jobs," said the enraptured man.
"Yes, we do. Only a few can succeed at playwriting; the
stage has many jobs for actors."
So happy, so filled with promise were they that the two of
20 Star Maker
them went to the Oriental Hotel in Manhattan Beach to do
nothing but enjoy the world and its blessings. But he didn't
quite give up work; he pulled out a manuscript.
"This is the first real honeymoon we've had and you drag
out that mess of papers."
" 'That mess of papers,' as you so euphonically call it, is
going to make us rich and famous."
After a time their money began to trickle away. Back to
their apartment, with the back yard filled with clothes, and
again they started to trudge Broadway.
The play was to be produced in Washington with the fabu-
lous Fanny Ward as the star— the first actress in America to
have her face lifted. The darling of the headlines.
David and Linda had been living too high and too well;
they did not have enough money to go to the opening. They
got the Washington papers as soon as they could; the reviews
were not good. One critic said the fool was the author.
They began to trudge again.
In two weeks the play closed.
But his next one wouldn't fail; this one would be the best
he'd ever written.
He sent a poem to McClure's Magazine. Back came a letter
from the great S. S. McClure himself. He liked the poem im-
mensely and his staff liked it . . . but they were loaded up on
poetry and alas! would have to return the exquisite little
poem. There was the poem, the editor's tears still damp on it.
The two continued to trudge. No doors opened. Only
pocketbooks— the money going out.
They got a job in a play that was to open in Norfolk,
Virginia. It failed. Back to the flapping back-yard clothes.
In Louisville there had been an in-and-out actor named
Max Davidson who had gone "on the road," just as David
He Directs His First Picture 21
Griffith had done and now, like Griffith, was pounding at the
doors, which opened not. The two met and David invited
him to have dinner with him and Linda in their apartment.
When he arrived the three soon began professional talk. Max
was not feeling low, as Griffith was, and began to describe a
land flowing with milk and honey. In this rich land was some-
thing that people cynically called "the flickers." Max laughed
to show what he thought of such brainless people.
"There's a studio at 1 1 East Fourteenth Street where they
make these moving pictures. They pay actors five dollars a
"Acting in the flickers!" said David with a shudder. "I'll
never do it in the world."
"They pay cash at the end of the day."
"I wouldn't care if they paid every hour, I wouldn't demean
myself by appearing in those wretched things."
"The pay is good," said Linda.
"Nobody you know, or care about, ever sees the pictures,"
pursued the redoubtable Max.
"But they might! I'm a stage actor and I'd rather starve
than prostitute myself by appearing in Mutoscope parlors."
"Lots of stage people are slipping off and working under
assumed names. Sometimes they don't even give their names.
Sometimes the director goes out on the street and watches
until he sees somebody who is the 'type' and braces him and
offers him a job."
"I think we ought to look into it," said Linda.
"The Great Train Robbery has been a sensational success.
It's nine hundred feet long. It has been called back to the same
theater two and three times. They charge ten cents to see it."
"Ten cents!" cried the astonished man. "If that isn't rob-
bery, I don't know what is! "
22 Star Maker
"It was directed by Edwin S. Porter, the greatest mind
in the business."
"It must be exalting to be the greatest mind in flickers," said
"The story ends in a chase."
"In a chase! Can you imagine Ibsen ending a story in a
"No, I can't," Max had to admit, then said, "They buy
stories. They pay fifteen dollars for a story."
"Oh!" said Griffith.
At last the evening was over. The cheerful Max was gone;
David and Linda sat alone in the dingy flat.
"I think," said Linda, "we might, at least, take a look at
these moving pictures."
David thought of their situation, of the increasing misfor-
tune that was coming so brazenly to their door. "Well, all
They went to a small "store show."
When they came out, David said, "I can't have anything
to do with such monstrosities. It almost made me sick."
"Five dollars is good pay, just now, the way things are."
"The stage has always been the thing, it always will be-
not these cheap, unspeakable eye-killers."
The nickelodeon— so called because the admission was a
nickel— was usually a smelly hole of a store that had been
vacated and couldn't get a tenant. The seats were folding
chairs hired from an undertaker. The people who patronized
the shows were what was called "the great unwashed." A
person with any social or financial position in the neighbor-
hood would no more go to such a place than he would to a
slaughterhouse. The showman set up a screen, put a projector
He Directs His First Picture 23
in a balcony or on a platform, and let the film run into an open
bag— a situation that today would start the fire department
madly writing violations. The film was fragile; it had broken
many times; when a break occurred, part of the film had to
be snipped out in order to make the repair. As a result there
were great gaps in the story and such sudden changes of scene
that even the most alert members of the audience didn't know
what it was all about. But that didn't matter too much; the
film moved. That was the main thing. Sometimes the film
broke, leaving a ghastly light on the screen. If a fly went wing-
ing by, it looked as big as a buzzard; naughty boys in the
audience whooped and screamed and threw BB shot. The
showman put in a piano player who kept one eye on the
screen and played whatever he thought appropriate. There
would be a gap in the film and he would have to leap from
"Pony Boy" to "Hello, Central, Give Me Heaven."
Glass slides were inserted between films, or, sometimes,
when a film broke. The slides went in for humor in a heavy
don't spit on the floor,
remember the johnstown flood.
read the titles to yourselves,
your neighbor can probably read.
if you like this picture, tell your friends,
if you don't, please keep your mouth shut.
ladies will take off their hats,
women will leave them on.
ladies don't smoke. so why should you?
24 Star Maker
A favorite of the time was a drawing of a flirtatious young
man tickling a horrified maiden under the chin. The caption
IF ANNOYED WHEN HERE
PLEASE TELL THE MANAGEMENT.
Glass slides also were supposed to help the audience follow
THE NEXT DAY.
AN HOUR LATER.
CAME THE DAWN.
NO ONE KNEW THE SECRETS OF HER HEART.
Foolish as all this was, these films were opening up some-
thing the world had never seen in all its existence. A new art
Griffith went a few times to "study" the kind of story that
was being used. Many pictures, he found, were crude adap-
tations of famous stories. Well, he could do that. La Tosca
was playing in New York. He went to the library, read the
story, and wrote a short retelling of the classic and got ready
to show it— not to Biograph, but to the Edison studio.
He took the Third Avenue Elevated, arrived in the Bronx,
and soon was in the "studio," which consisted of three rough-
looking buildings. People were coming and going in the
most haphazard manner. He stopped a man who looked like
"I want to see Mr. Porter."
"He's over there somewhere," the man said, jerking his
thumb vaguely over his shoulder.
He Directs His First Picture 25
He found Porter sitting in a small office that seemed to
have been knocked together out of boards used in building
sets. He had a mustache, his nose was unusually broad at the
nostrils, and he was wearing a derby hat. He was an inspired
mechanic. He had come to the studio as a cameraman and
through ability had become a director and was now the domi-
nant man in the studio.
"I'm a writer and a playwright, and I've written a story
that might interest you."
"We're always looking for good stories," said Porter.
"I think you'll like this one."
Porter read it then and there, Griffith watching like a lynx.
Porter put down the manuscript. "I'm afraid it's not just
what we want," said the cruel man. He studied Griffith.
"Have you had any experience as an actor?"
"A little bit," said the writer.
"I'm looking for a man to play the lead in a story laid in
Switzerland. It's a mountaineer-type part. We're going to call
it Rescued fro?n an Eagle's Nest. A baby is stolen from the
yard where it is lying in the sun, and is carried off by a vicious
eagle. The eagle is really a stuffed turkey we got at a taxi-
dermist's. It's worked by invisible wires."
"It sounds promising," said Griffith.
"The hero climbs the mountain to the nest and has a terrific
fight on a crag with the eagle."
"It sounds exciting," said Griffith.
"We're going to make some of it here in the studio, and
some on the Palisades in New Jersey. That is where the fight
with the savage eagle takes place. The man we had walked
out on us this morning." He studied Griffith closely. "If you
want to come tomorrow, you can play the part. There will
be two davs' work in it."
26 Star Maker
"I'll come, Mr. Porter," said David with as much enthusiasm
as he could command.
"You go to the wardrobe section, look through the suits,
and pick out something suitable to a mountain climber."
Griffith said he would pick out something suitable to a
mountain climber and, after a few moments, left.
When he got home he was low in spirits. He slumped down
in a chair, sitting far forward in it, with his long, lean legs
stretched out in front, the way he so often sat.
"Did you sell your story?" Linda asked hopefully.
"Your husband is now leading man to a stuffed eagle," he
"You mean you got a job acting?"
"Yes. The big character-revealing scene is where I have a
fearful struggle with the eagle on a crag in the mountains of
Switzerland. It's nip and tuck for a while, then finally I get
the eagle by the neck and choke the living daylights out of
him. It'll bring people to their feet, cheering."
Linda was laughing. "It might lead to something," she said
when she quieted down.
"I don't want it to lead to anything," said the bitter man.
"I'm a writer, not an eagle fighter. I'm going to sell stories to
the picture people. That'll keep us going. Meantime, I'll sell
another play. You'll see!" His great, his almost overwhelming
confidence in himself returned. "I'm meant for big things,
Linda. I know that."
The next day he went to the studio, got his mountain-
climbing suit, and fought a hand-to-hand struggle with the
vicious eagle. The second day he got the baby out of the nest
and carried it to its rejoicing parents.
"I want to see it when it's finished," said Linda.
"I don't. And I don't want anybody to know I was mixed
He Directs His First Picture 2j
up in it. To admit you're acting in films is to admit you're a
failure on the stage. Don't tell any of your friends, Linda.
You won't, will you?" he appealed earnestly.
He liked to work late at night, and after Linda had gone
to bed in their miserable little flat he wrote with a lead pencil,
erasing, rewriting. When he finished, he would put the pages
away, so she would not see the manuscript, almost as if it
were something sacred. And it was— to him. Stories went out,
they came back, and each time one came back, it was a little
stab in his heart. Most writers would have become discour-
aged, but not D. W. Griffith. His confidence in himself was
supreme. He would win. Nothing— nothing in the world-
could stop him.
The ebullient, self-confident Max Davidson came back.
"Edison isn't the only studio," said the success-exuding Max
of the "loud" clothes and Broadway manners. "There are
four right now. Go and see good ol' Biograph. I told you
about it before. Lots of real actors go there. They're glad to
get that five. You go, too, Linda. You both might land."
"I'll go. I certainly will," she said.
"I've got a story in mind," said David. "Maybe I'll take it
to them. Who's the man to see?"
"Wallace McCutcheon. He's as cold as a fish in January,
but he pays out da mon'," said the lively Max.
The American Biograph and Mutoscope Company was
housed in what had once been the very seat of aristocracy—
a brownstone mansion with a fine curved iron railing leading
up the steps from the street. Many social leaders and famous
people had gone up those graceful steps— one was Stanford
White. x\nd now today, at this very moment, a tall, thin, con-
fident man, with a way of thrusting his shoulders forward as
28 Star Maker
he walked, mounted those steps. In an instant he was in a dis-
ordered world. There was the sound of pounding and sawing
and of people shouting at each other and no one, seemingly,
paying the slightest attention to anyone else. People in strange
costumes rushed by, threading in and out among each other—
so eager were they to get no place; at least it seemed that way.
Some of the people had white smeared on their faces. Some
of the men had on beards that wouldn't deceive a baby.
Strange bluish vapor lamps blazed overhead, giving everybody
a sickly, ghastly color. An old woman was sitting on a pack-
ing crate with a misshapen hat on her head and over her
shoulders was a tattered shawl. When David passed in front
of her, he saw that she was a girl made up to look like an old
hag. The shoddy pretense sickened the sensitive man who had
acted with Nance O'Neil. How unspeakably crude every-
thing was! How cheap! How preposterous!
"Can you tell me where I can find Wallace McCutcheon? ,,
"In his office. He's making out the blue slips."
He found Mr. McCutcheon working at a disordered desk.
He was a short man whose face had the appearance of having
too many teeth. "What do you want?" Mr. McCutcheon was
not a man to beat about the bush.
"Mr. McCutcheon, I'm the playwright David Wark Griffith.
Maybe you've heard of my Play A Fool and a Girl."
Mr. McCutcheon said he hadn't had the pleasure.
"Mr. Hackett produced it." How much more impressive
it sounded to say "Mr. Hackett" than to say "James K.
Hackett." This showed one was of the theater. "It played in
Washington." Without quite saying so, David gave the im-
pression that the play had swept Washington off its feet. "I
also write for Leslie's Weekly ."
He Directs His First Picture 29
Mr. McCutcheon filed a blue slip. "What is it you have in
"Mr. McCutcheon," said the earnest man, "I've written a
story called Old Isaacs, the Pawnbroker"
Mr. McCutcheon took the news calmly.
"Do you want me to tell it to you?"
Mr. McCutcheon filed another blue slip. "No."
"Do you want me to leave it?"
Mr. McCutcheon pondered this. "Yes," he said finally.
"Yes, leave it," he said, and it was as if he had added " leave'
is the key word." "Come back tomorrow and I'll let you
David Griffith walked back through the jumbled, mixed-up,
crazy studio. The ragged old woman was eating out of a
shoe box and licking her fingers.
When he got back to the grubby little apartment, Linda
had a board on the table and was ironing. He told her the
She was delighted. "Maybe I can get a job acting."
"You wouldn't want to act in what Fourteenth Street calls
'the fil-lums,' would you? If managers found it out you'd be
on the banned list. Don't do it, Linda."
"I think it'd be fun."
"It wouldn't be my idea of contagious amusement," he
said in the lofty manner he sometimes adopted.
As they had dinner, the two talked of the new world open-
ing before them. If Mr. McCutcheon liked the story, he
would write others, David said. Linda spoke again of going to
the studio, and again he urged her not to do so.
When David returned, Mr. McCutcheon was again in his
cramped office. Taking up the manuscript, he scrutinized it,
30 Star Maker
as if he hadn't quite made up his mind. David tried to display
an expression of complete confidence.
"I can use it," said Mr. McCutcheon at last. "We pay
"I'll take it, Mr. McCutcheon," said David with no pretense
he was accepting a low price.
Shortly the picture was in production, so speedily were
films made. David watched, fascinated. Ideas began to evolve
in his head. What a vast difference there was between acting
on the stage and in moving pictures. Most of the film people
overacted, he felt.
Linda went to the studio and got a job. "I think it's a
shocking comedown for you," David said. "If the uptown
managers find it out, you'll never get a Broadway part."
"I've never had one, the way it is," she said.
He patted her shoulder in a fine moment of sympathy.
"That's true, Linda. But you will! You're good-looking—
you're really beautiful— and you've got talent. Your day will
"Maybe it'll come in moving pictures."
"I hope not, Linda. I certainly do. They're childish and I
have no respect for them."
At night he worked in a kind of desperation on his manu-
scripts—this tall, thin, heavy-voiced man with his hooked beak
of a nose, leaning over his writing table. On going to bed, he
put the manuscripts in a box. There was an understanding be-
tween the two that Linda was not to fish around in the box.
The box was sacred; it was not to be pried into, this little
receptacle of dreams.
Also, after the way things were done, Old Isaacs, the Fawn-
broker, was soon in the theaters. It was released March 26,
1908, and was nine hundred feet long. David did not go to see
He Directs His First Picture 31
it. Another was 'Ostler Joe, the retelling of a famous poem;
it was released June 9, this same year. He did not bother to
see it. Linda thought it was splendid.
Luck continued to walk with him. David sold other stories
and, now that Mr. McCutcheon's attention had been directed
to him, David was given acting parts, which he accepted, not
with the elation that Linda experienced, but as a lowly way
to make money.
Most of the actors, as soon as they got their hands on the
money, slid out of the studio as fast as they could. Griffith
stayed, watching the director, absorbed in the details of put-
ting a scene on the screen. Mr. McCutcheon noticed this. One
day he said, "Griffith, you seem to take an interest in things.
How would you like to direct a picture?"
Griffith was taken by surprise. He didn't know whether he
wanted to or not, he said. If he failed as a director, the studio
would drop him and he wouldn't get another acting job.
"I promise you that if you fail I'll still keep you on as an
actor," McCutcheon said.
"I'll take it, Mr. McCutcheon."
That night he told Linda the news. "Now you'll get some
place," she said.
"It'll give us some money until I sell something," he said.
Griffith began to turn over in his mind how he would direct
a picture, and the details he would give it.
The title that had been clapped on the story was The Ad-
ventures of Dolly. Dolly was a baby who got mixed up in as
strange an adventure as anybody could want. She was kid-
naped by gypsies; when pursuers were hard upon their trail,
they put the unlucky child in a barrel and sent her down the
river and over the falls. It would make people hold their
breath, said the now friendly Mr. McCutcheon. The story
32 Star Maker
was silly but it was a chance to direct. David certainly wasn't
going to direct a flicker the way they did a stage play. He'd
watched other directors long enough to have that firmly in
his mind. What if he did fail? He could sell other stories and
probably a play. He would direct the picture as he wished,
let the wintry winds of the front office roar. He didn't have
to make a living this way.
He tore into the picture and he tore into it in his own way.
Instead of placing the camera in front of the scene, as if this
were a stage, he picked up the camera and moved it around.
McCutcheon was shocked; he'd made a mistake in his man;
besides this man was spending money like a sailor at Coney
Island. It was too late to change directors; maybe they could
get some of their money back.
Down the river in the bobbing, whirling barrel went poor
Dolly— the barrel operated by hidden wires. The most breath-
taking scene was when the barrel went over the falls. The
grief -stricken parents frantically opened the barrel— and there
was Dolly, smiling a big, happy, heart-warming smile, not a
scratch on the innocent little thing.
The picture opened at Keith & Proctor's Union Square
Theatre, July 14, 1908. In the theater David's ear had been
attuned to audiences; now he used this ability again. If the
audience wanted this kind of picture, let 'em have it.
The exciting year of 1908 continued. David sold other
stories; he directed other pictures. Other directors were in
awe of their pictures. But D. W. wasn't. He said, "In a legiti-
mate theater the audience listens to the actors; in a motion-
picture theater, they watch them."
During this time Linda had been getting jobs and now, as
his power and authority increased, he said, "I'll give you jobs,
but don't let anyone know we're married."
He Directs His First Picture 33
The secret marriage continued. He called her "Miss Arvid-
The business office looked on him with a cold and apprais-
ing eye. He was not making pictures the way they'd been
made since they started. He was yanking the camera around
as if it were a pufTball.
The belief was that when an actor walked, his feet had to
show, or the audience would say he was walking on air and
not take the picture seriously.
One day the shocked Mr. McCutcheon came to David in
great distress. "I've just been looking at your new picture,
Griffith, and you've cut the people's feet off. They're walking
"The audience won't notice that."
"They will, and they'll titter."
"There won't be a titter in the house," said David. "I know
what I'm doing."
"I do, too. You're ruining us. The theaters will refuse to
book our pictures. The Trust is after us hot and heavy, as it is."
Mr. McCutcheon was thoroughly and completely alarmed
by the actions of the new director he'd taken on.
Griffith had one fact fighting on his side. Biograph was
sickly; some thought it might not pull through the winter. It
was selling fifteen prints of an average picture. Dolly jumped
the number to twenty, which made the business office blink.
Calls were coming in for "AB" pictures made by that new
director, for his name was not known even to the trade. It
had never been on the screen and it had never been in a trade
magazine. If, for some astounding reason, the business office
had wanted him to put his name on a picture, he would have
used Lawrence Griffith. His stories and plays were going out
under his full name.
54 r Maker
Mr. McCutcheon spoke to him again about cuttine people's
feet off. Griffith, feeling sure of himself, said he was croine to
continue cutting em off. Mr. McCutcheon left, pretty well
Linda made David take her to the halls where these new
moving pictures were shown. He looked down on them. Why
should he— an intellectual— a man who loved the classics— a
man who read and reread Leaves of Grass— a man who had
great thoughts about the meaning oi life and man's place on
this insecure little blob called "the earth"— whv should he have
to fashion pictures for monkev-minded people : It was bitter.
He would make some more money and then throw the whole
sickening thing over. Then he would become a playwright to
be reckoned with— maybe a Sardou. or a Sudermann.
Linda liked pictures. She began going with her friends,
leaving David at home. He welcomed this; it gave him a
chance to write. From time to time he got out The Treidmill
and studied it. If he could get it just right, it would be a great,
a moving stage plav— a plav of significance— not an absurd
and ridiculous thine like an eagle carrying off a babv bv the
Striking as his personality was. and great as his thoughts
might have been, there was one trait he had hardlv at all. The
completelv honest, the earnest, the sincere, the incredibly
ambitious man had little or no sense oi humor. The small bit
he had was of a burlesque nature. Sometimes he would imitate
a Negro preacher. At bottom he liked Negroes and. he said,
understood them. Sometimes he spoke with affection of the
mammy he'd had as a child. He spoke of his mother, who was
living in Louisville and to whom he was now sending money.
Most of all he spoke oi his father— a great, a forceful, a Shake-
speare-lovine aristocrat who had given up his life, through his
He Directs His First Picture 35
war wounds, to protect a section of the country that carpet-
baggers had come into, carpetbaggers who had aroused the
Negroes against their old and sympathetic masters.
Meantime, his importance was increasing. He was the
"money" director. He spent more money than the other di-
rectors, but, on the other hand, he made more.
As he brought the camera closer and closer, he saw that the
face projected on the screen showed every line and wrinkle-
far, far more than could be seen on the spoken stage. So he
began selecting the boys and girls who came to the studio on
whose faces there were no lines. The other directors were
taking "experienced ,, actors from the spoken stage.
He w r as not a hail fellow well met; instead, he was distant
and aloof. Everybody at the studio was called by the first
name, but no one called him "Dave." He was "Mr. Griffith,"
or "D. W." Sometimes he was called "The Boss." He liked this.
One day Mr. McCutcheon brought up a man and said,
"Billy's going to be your photographer from now on."
Billy Bitzer was shorter than Griffith, with powerful
shoulders and thick, stubby fingers. His full name was Gott-
lieb Wilhelm Bitzer. He was born in Boston, of a German
family, and had a slight German accent. He was a genius in
handling machines. The camera was a heavy, complicated
affair that no one understood very well. If anybody knew its
whims, that gifted person was Billy Bitzer, who lived only to
experiment with his fascinating toy. After the studio closed at
night, he would stay and work with his camera and film, mix-
ing solutions and making tests. The thing he was proudest of
in all the world was that he had made the first news pictures
in America— William McKinley on the law r n of his home
bein£ notified of his nomination for President. He loved to
36 Star Maker
have the actors, and the strange characters that inhabited the
half-mad studio, ask him about the Great Event.
"Yess, I take de picture," he would say. "It help elect heem
President. Pictures were shown in Mutoscope boxes in Mr.
Hammerstein's Olympia Theatre, in New York, October 12,
1896. Effrybody could hardly believe their eyes."
Billy was the studio's most powerful production man. He
had joined Biograph in 1896 as an electrician, but was soon
"fussing" with cameras. He had become head cameraman;
lesser people feared him as they would the plague. He was the
one who determined if the lights were strong enough, if the
angles were right, and who instructed the actors how rapidly
they could gesture; in fact, he was the boss of the picture
and was, indeed, the best cameraman in America.
Billy had seen Griffith as an actor— and he didn't think much
of him. Billy had charge of all camera work in the studio,
and now an actor, who thought he could direct, had been
thrown on his back.
"Dis is de way I do," said Billy to the greenhorn. "I have
read de story and I am ready to explain what you must do."
He showed Griffith a laundry shirt cardboard which he had
divided off into columns by drawing lines with a lead pencil.
"Here is de picture de way we make it," he announced.
He pointed to the columns
COMEDY DRAMA SADNESS PRETTY SCENE
"Now I have study de picture. Comedy is what we need
With his lead pencil he made two X's under Comedy so
that it read:
He Directs His First Picture 37
"We need more for de pretty scene, like dis" —
"Now for sadness zo"—
"See. Dere is de picture for you, like I do it for efTrybody. ,,
He proudly thrust the cardboard into Griffith's hand.
Griffith studied the cardboard and he studied Billy who was
so proud of his work— Billy who knew so many things he
"I think I understand, Billy. But I am the one who directs
the picture. I tell you what to do."
Billy looked at him in shocked amazement. "It is always
done zo, Mr. Greeffith."
"Not when I direct, Billy. I do it my own way."
"You don't vant no cartbort?"
"No. I have studied the story and I have everything in my
It was a moment before Billy could speak. "You mean— no
"No. No cardboard."
"Yoost your headt?"
"Yes. Just my head."
"It is badt."
38 Star Maker
After a little more discussion, the poor fellow went to an-
other part of the studio, convinced he would never get along
with this crazy new director that had been thrust on him.
Griffith threw himself into the making of motion pictures
with incredible energy. It was as if some private demon
haunted him and he wanted to prove something to it. When
he started across the studio, he did not walk so much as run.
He infused others with his driving desire to get things done;
the whole studio was electrified. But also mystified. He wasn't
directing pictures the way other people directed them. He was
doing things that were downright crazy. But his code num-
bers were coming up faster than any other director's. What
was it this aloof, impersonal, driving man had?— this man who
was always having trouble with the business office?— this man
who seemed to have no respect at all for the men gripping the
Linda was delighted that he gave less time to the matter of
writing which was going to get him nowhere. Seven hundred
dollars for a play! Six dollars for a poem! He gave her work
in pictures. One or two of the regular workers began to
suspect they were married, but it was well to be circumspect.
And so matters rested.
August 17, 1908, came— a big day, indeed, for on that day
he signed a contract with Biograph, as it was called, for fifty
dollars a week. But he did not sign his real name; he signed it
"Lawrence Griffith." No one in the theater world must know
that the author and playwright was having anything to do
with the shoddy kind of entertainment called moving pictures.
That evening, when he got home, he took out his Indian
clubs, stripped down, and began to swing them. "Linda," he
said, as he swung them, "I've got something to tell you. Good
He Directs His First Picture 39
"I wish you wouldn't always swing those clubs when you
have something important to tell me. Do one thing at a time."
"It saves time, Linda. I try to get everything done that I
"What's the good news? Did you sell another fifteen-dollar
"It's bigger than that, Linda. I signed a contract with the
"For how much? You know what a poor businessman you
"I did pretty well this time. I'm to get fifty dollars a week,
plus a commission, until it mounts up to another fifty."
"They'll probably try to beat you out of your commission."
"I don't think so, Linda. They're fair-dealing people."
She was delighted with his news and the two talked to-
gether for some moments, then, looking at him closely, she
said, "David, you seem depressed."
"No, I'm not," he assured her. "I'm just tired. I want to
take a nap." He put the Indian clubs away.
One of the things he could do was to sleep in a chair.
Thrusting his long legs out in front of him and resting his
chin on his hand, he closed his eyes and was soon asleep. Linda
moved quietly about the little apartment, preparing dinner.
One of Griffith's problems was the kiss. If it were held too
long, rude boys in the audience made catcalls and ugly noises.
The women, however, liked to see the kiss delivered as if it
"Billy, can't you do something about the kiss?"
"Maybe zo," said Billy.
After experimenting, Billy attached a large iris diaphragm
on the front of his camera; to this diaphragm device was a
40 Star Maker
handle that served as a weight. When time came for the
troublemaking kiss, Billy cranked with one hand; with the
other he released the iris handle and slowly the weight closed
the opening and slowly the scene faded out in a love-drenched
mood. This solved the kiss problem. No catcalls.
HIS SECRET MARRIAGE
There turned up at the studio a hulk of
young man standing over six feet and weighing more than
two hundred pounds. This was his birthday— January 17, 1909
—and he was twenty-nine years old. He had extraordinarily
large feet and hands and a kind of slow-witted look. He said
that he was a comedian. To prove it, he carried a calling card
that said Mack Sennett, Actor and Comedian.
This strange, unplaced young man had been born on a farm
in Canada where his family had lived for more than a hundred
years. He was Irish-Canadian, could speak Canuck French,
and something that sounded very much like English. His family
gave up the farm and landed in the United States; the boy got
a job in a steel mill where he helped to carry beams and huge
weights; he was just the person for this. He was slow, slap-
footed, and dependable.
After a time the family moved to Northampton, Massa-
chusetts, where he took another whack at school. At about
this time he began to fancy himself as a singer; it seems he was
alone in this. Also he began to think of himself as an actor.
This was something that must be faced. He began to talk about
New York and going on the stage. No one would seem less
equipped for such a career than this young former steel-mill
42 Star Maker
worker who moved his lips on the occasions when he under-
took to read.
He had prudently saved his mill money and, finally, left
for New York, ready to bring Broadway to its knees. Broad-
way, knowing nothing of this, went along as usual. It was the
old story of doors that did not open. Finally he was offered a
job in the Bowery Theatre. The tempting offer was to be the
hind legs of a horse. This was somewhat less than he had
dreamed back in the mill, but hind legs were better than no
legs at all. Another man was the front legs. The situation was
a happy one for Mack, for it turned out that the hind legs
were much more important than the front ones, for the hind
legs were the ones that kicked and indulged in funny antics.
The young man liked this and thought up strange and un-
expected kicks that delighted the fun-loving audience. Another
performer on the stage was "Little Egypt," a local girl with
Mack had advanced his act about as far as he could, so he
asked if he could go out on the stage and sing a funny song.
The manager, sobered by the request, told him to try his luck.
Music was arranged, and the young man walked out on the
stage alone and faced an audience who had not the slightest
idea that they had once been vastly amused by the singer's
The music struck up. He sang.
When the matter was over, the manager said he thought,
everything considered, that the young man had better go back
to his first love.
His love, however, had cooled, and he started to look for
"Why don't you try fil-mms?" one of his friends asked.
"Where should I go?"
His Secret Marriage Continues 43
"The Biograph studio is on East Fourteenth Street. Lots of
people who are at liberty go there."
"Who do I ask for?"
"D. W. Griffith is the director and does the hiring."
In no time at all the at-liberty actor was walking up the
winding steps of the old brownstone mansion.
"I want to see Mr. Griffith. Where can I find him?"
"He's all over the place. He'll be wearing a floppy hat."
After a time he found Griffith— Griffith tall and thin and
intellectual; Sennett tall and heavy and ponderous who cared
for reading hardly at all.
"I'm an actor," said Sennett. "I'd like to work for you."
The cold, impersonal, aloof man inspected him in detail.
"What kind of actor?"
"I'm a comedian."
The director's face went down. "I'm not making comedies."
"I also dance and sing," said the young stalwart.
"I'm sure you do them well, but at present I have no open-
ing for your obvious talents."
The young singer lumbered off but did not leave the studio;
there were other directors, and finally he landed a job. The
young fellow might not look like an intellectual, but his brain
was active and he was observant. Instead of dashing out of the
studio the moment he was free, as most actors did, he remained,
watching the directors at work. Griffith appealed to him most
of all. Indeed Griffith was the rising director, the one talked
about, the one spoken of with respect, even if he was no back-
Griffith was hard to cultivate. A hundred actors were upon
him; sometimes they waited at the foot of the stone steps and
pounced on him, but he shook them off. He was always busy,
always in a rush; he was inordinately ambitious; he would
44 Star Maker
direct pictures the way he thought best, let the front office
roar. But now, as the financial men examined the money sheets,
they roared less and less. Sometimes they almost praised him.
The situation was incredible.
Sennett hung around Griffith like a bear around a bee tree.
One of the problems was the tremendously heavy camera and
now, under Griffith's direction, it often had to be moved.
When the moment came, Sennett plucked up the monster as
if it were a toy on a what-not shelf and took it where Griffith
designated. This suited little Billy Bitzer— it was goot to have
somebody do eet. But even this kindly act did not get good
Mack Sennett anywhere.
At other times he stood handily out of the way and watched
Griffith direct. This was Heaven.
He discovered that after work hours Griffith walked alone
to his flat. Sennett waited for him, pretending that it was just
an accident the two should meet, and paced along with him.
Here, Sennett found, Griffith was more approachable than at
other times. He asked Griffith about his theory of directing,
a subject that, just now, was of absorbing, almost overwhelm-
ing interest to Griffith. His theory, in short, was that nothing
should be done as it was on the stage. No full-arm gestures.
A favorite phrase of his was "Punctuate with the camera."
This seemed to mean that the camera must break up long
sequences. Once he said, "You've seen a Japanese foot juggler
come out on the stage, lie down, place a mat under his head,
and juggle a barrel with his feet. The audience is interested
as long as the painted barrel keeps turning; the moment it
stops, the audience loses interest. The director is the Japanese
juggler; the story is his painted barrel— he must keep it turn-
ing." On another occasion he said, "I have an almost religious
respect for the storyteller."
His Secret Marriage Continues 45
Sennett got a job under another director in The Curtain
This is a description of the story as given in an advertise-
ment in a trade paper:
The Curtain Pole. Length 765 feet. Code word: Revibrestis.
Released Feb. 15, 1909.
The plot: At the Edwards home there is a house party. Un-
fortunately Mr. Edwards has an attack of gout, which incapaci-
tates him so as to throw the burden of arrangements on the women
folks. When the guests begin to arrive, everything is in readiness,
except the hanging of a pair of portieres. One of the guests is Mr.
Du Pont, an ingratiating Frenchman, who wishes to help hang the
curtains. He gets on a chair; the chair slips and he falls, breaking
the pole. He insists upon procuring a new pole. Mr. Edwards tries
to persuade him not to, but he says "Oui! Oui! I bring you ze
one grand pole." Away he goes. He is but a short distance away
when he meets a friend who invites him to sip a couple of absinthe
frappes, after which he is more intensely charged with the phlo-
gistic determination to get the pole. Arriving at the store, a pole
is selected. He does not remember the width of the door, so he
takes the whole length of the pole, 18 feet. Back he starts. Gee
whiz! the limit. The absinthe frappe vapors, rising to his brain,
make him a bit wobbly, and the pole in his hand becomes an instru-
ment of destruction. After a series of indescribable incidents, he
enlists the services of a cab, the driver of which is extremely boozy.
Away goes this Pegasus, driven by a crapulous Eros, with a wild,
vertiginous Frenchman as fare who holds the devastating pole
across his lap, with 8 feet protruding on each side, mowing down
everything within its reach— lampposts, fruit stands, market stalls,
etc. All fall until at last the home of the Edwards is reached. Here,
in the meantime, a pole has been gotten. He is a wreck as he enters
with the pole; no one pays the slightest attention to him, which
makes him furious. "Sacre bleu! Zis is ze ingratitude!" he says,
and then in a rage, bites the pole in two.
As one reads this, he wonders about the strange writing in
this outline meant for hurried film exhibitors. Here are three
46 Star Maker
words you'll not meet with every day: phlogistic, crapulous,
Sennett, however, was proud of the picture and asked Grif-
fith if he would look at it with him and give him points.
During the showing Griffith sat there, saying not a word,
making not a movement. The two filed out of the little
"What do you think of it, Mr. Griffith?" asked the young
"Very funny," said Griffith. "I haven't laughed so much in
Sennett was hurt, but, on the other hand, Griffith had given
up his time.
Sennett spoke of something near his heart. "Mr. Griffith, I
would like to be a director myself and make a picture with
funny policemen in it."
Griffith was aghast.
"Policemen are not funny," he said severely. "They repre-
sent law and order and should be respected as a part of our
system of government."
"I was in a show once and I played a policeman an' the audi-
"There must have been other elements. When I have a
police officer in one of my pictures, I make him dignified and a
person the audience can sympathize with. The important
thing," continued Griffith, "is to tell a story."
"What about makin' them laugh?"
"In the whole length of a film an audience may laugh only a
few times, but it will follow the story all the time."
The subject was dropped; the conversation went to some-
Griffith's conflicts with the business office grew more fre-
His Secret Marriage Continues 47
quent; he was not making the right kind of pictures, they said.
Their biggest shock was when he said he wanted to make Pippa
Passes by Robert Browning. No, they said; he wasn't going
to put no poem on the screen with their money. But Griffith
was strong and self-willed.
He was working only for money; with this he could get
away from the debasing studio drudgery and do something
fine. He scorned himself for not quitting, but there was the
money that he and Linda must have to live. He paid no at-
tention to the way in which other directors made pictures; he
plunged fearlessly ahead, doing things that no one else had
ever attempted. To do something new and different he ac-
cepted as a challenge and threw himself into this as if it were
some kind of desperate adventure. Each new experiment was
more radical and more expensive than the one before. What
if it did fail? He did not care. He would soon be free from
this monster. He would have a play on Broadway; the play
would sway and move people and make them think. As its
author he would be treated with respect; he would mingle
with the great of the earth. This strange, almost incredible man
continued to dream and to work. His driving energy was pro-
digious. He never seemed to be tired, except in the morning
when it was time to go to the studio.
His secret marriage to Linda continued; no one knew of their
union. In 1908 he put her in a picture called Lines of White
on a Sullen Sea.
A happy evening for him was to go to a stage play with
Linda; on the way home the two would discuss the plot of the
play. She was more interested in the acting and preferred to
talk about that. Sometimes she spoke slightingly of his writing.
Directing was the big thing, she said. She had a group of
48 Star Maker
friends and often went to a picture show with them. When
he was alone he got out his manuscripts, humping his bony
shoulders over the table, and writing with a lead pencil. When
he heard her returning, he put his writing away.
She still cooked his meals. Sometimes, when he was late, he
telephoned her and stopped at a restaurant, so as not to delay
her in her household duties.
One morning he went to the window and looked into the
bleak back yard and said, "I want you to telephone the studio
I'm sick and can't come today."
"You'd better not do that, David," she said. "You're getting
ahead so wonderfully as a director. You'll make your mark."
"In water," he said bitterly. "Directing a film is writing in
water. Poetry lives."
"Directing lets us live," she said.
Billy Bitzer had thought of himself as the genius of the
studio— and he was almost that, indeed. No one had ever had
such command of the camera as he had. He liked to stay at
night after the others had gone and "fool around mit the
camera." When he had been assigned to Griffith, he had re-
garded Griffith with great suspicion. He had learned a great
deal in working with other directors, and was prone to tell
them how to manage a scene. But this new director had ideas
of his own. Very explicitly he told what must be done. By
mutterings and shakings of his head Billy said the matter could
not be accomplished. One day Griffith said, "I want you to
move the camera up close and fill the screen with just her
Billy stared in utter unbelief. "You mean you vant a head
mit no body upon der screen?"
His Secret Marriage Continues 49
"It is not done dot way."
"It's done that way here."
Billy went ahead with his work, certain he had been as-
signed to a director who would soon be on the street.
When the picture was run off in the little cubbyhole of a
projection room, Mr. McCutcheon and the money men
thought they were in the hands of an experimentalist who
would soon ruin them.
When the trying evening was over and Griffith was home,
he told Linda what had happened.
"I think you'd better do what they want."
"Let them fire me if they want to. I think I've got a stage
play that's just right."
"I think you're making a mistake."
"Have faith in me, Linda. You'll see. Someday you'll be
proud of me."
"I'm proud of you now," she said sincerely.
A strange procession of characters came to that brownstone
former mansion: out-of-work actors, jugglers, contortionists,
men taking bets on horse races, villainous moneylenders,
mothers with darling children; and, sometimes, exceedingly
attractive girls. Some of the latter had tried for chorus jobs
in the big Broadway shows but had failed; then word had got
to them of the gold mine on Fourteenth Street. Here they came
—this weird, impossible segment of the world of entertainment.
One who came was a girl of fifteen. Her father had died
in a strange, almost unbelievable accident which could happen
only once in a hundred years. John Charles Smith was purser
on a side-wheeler running between Toronto and Lewiston, on
Lake Erie. The night the boat landed in Toronto he was in a
hurry to see his family, rushed out of the cabin, hurried down
$o Star Maker
the passageway, and started to jump over the drive shaft that
turned the great wheels. An iron pulley was hanging down,
his head struck the pulley, and he fell to the deck. He was
soon dead, leaving a widow twenty-four years old and three
children— the eldest five; she was Gladys Mary Smith. The
mother— a determined, strong-willed woman— decided to take
her three children to New York and give them a start in the
world. Her success was quite startling. There was a Chauncey
Olcott play on Broadway entitled Edmund Burke. In this were
the three Smith children: Mary, Charlotte, and Edith. They
danced and sang remarkably well, especially little Edith.
Mary had accomplished something quite astonishing, even
for volatile, quick-changing Broadway; at the age of fifteen
she had got a job with the great, the one-and-only, the almost-
holy David Belasco in The Warrens of Virginia.
Belasco thought they could get a name more original than
Smith and asked Mary about the names in her family. Mary, as
they discussed the matter, said that back in Ireland her grand-
mother's name was Elizabeth Denny Pickford.
"Pickford," repeated Belasco. "That's it! You are Mary
And now little Edith Smith changed her name to Jack Pick-
ford, for, all along, little Edith had been a boy.
The play went out on the road and was a success. After a
time it ceased and Mary Pickford wanted something to tide her
to her next play. Word of the gold mine got to her, and up the
fateful brownstone steps she went.
There was no doorman, no one to ask why? She walked into
what, after the chaste seclusion of a Belasco rehearsal hall,
was a madhouse. People in grotesque costumes and startling
make-up dashed here and there, seemingly not quite certain
where they were going but in a tremendous rush to get there.
"Mr. D. \V." was an actor in
films before he became a di-
rector. Here he is adorned
with a wig. In early pictures
many actors wore wigs to
disguise themselves from their
friends. Culver Service.
The boy: Ben Alexander; later he
became famous in "Dragnet." And
D. W. Griffith. Culver Service.
Griffith often posed Marv Pickford with rabbits in order to portray
youthful innocence. DeGaston.
Douglas Fairbanks, Alary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and Griffith.
Griffith was hard on his stars, but they loved and respected him.
D. W. Griffith as he looked on a set when directing a picture. Culver
Mae Marsh as "the little sister" in The
Birth of a Nation. Culver Service.
The Reverend Thomas E. Dixon from
whose novel The Birth of a Nation
was made. Culver Service.
Henry B. Walthall as "the Little
Colonel" at the time he played the
lead in the picture at $75 a week.
The immortal love-sick scene from
The Birth of a Nation. This brought
great laughter from audiences. Lillian
Gish and an extra, later identified as
Walter Freeman. Culver Service.
Linda Arvidson appearing in the motion picture As the Candle Burns.
Griffith was secretly married to her. Culver Service.
Carol Dempster was a dancer in the Ruth St. Denis group. She became
important in Griffith's life. The gentleman: W. C. Fields. Culver
*» X >r *
Griffith at his second wedding, which took place in Louisville, Ken-
tucky. His widow lives in New York City. Courier-Journal and
On the left: Griffith and his bride shortly after his second marriage.
The people on the right are Louisville friends. Courier-Journal and
Griffith was proud of his family. He had his
father's military record carved on the tomb,
which stands today near the village of Crestwood,
The house Griffith bought for his mother in LaGrange, Kentucky.
Griffith came here to write and here dictated stories to his wife and
a stenographer. The stories did not sell. On the front porch— the
author of this book.
His Secret Marriage Continues 51
Men in impossible beards hurried by. Children clung to their
mothers' hands. Carpenters pounded; men shouted; no one
seemed to know what they shouted, or to care. People were
eating— they always seemed to be eating in this strange mental
infirmary. A man with a monkey sitting on his shoulder
threaded his way through the crowd. The monkey was the
only one who seemed to be at home.
"I want to see Mr. Griffith," she said.
"He's over there," the man said.
She approached the man with the big hat. "Are you Mr.
The man gave her a chilling look. "Can't you see I'm busy?"
"I asked you a respectful question."
"It so happens I am," said the man less belligerently.
The two sized each other up. She did not think much of
what she saw.
"I'm an actress and I'd like to get a job with you."
How many times he'd heard that! He'd settle her; he turned
to look, then looked again. Here was an exceedingly attractive
girl with long, beautiful golden curls and a winsome expres-
"Have you had any experience?"
"I have," said the girl, who was completely able to take care
of herself. "I am a David Belasco actress."
"Do you mean you acted for him?"
"In The Warrens of Virginia by William C. De Mille."
He was impressed. Why, he himself, after all his years on
the stage, had not been good enough to act for the great man.
"What part did you play?"
"Betty Warren. Cecil B. De Mille played the part of my
He came down in his manner.
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"If you're good enough for Belasco, why do you want to
"Because I want the money."
"Do you know how much we pay?"
"I hear it's five dollars a day. But you'll have to pay me ten
"Nobody gets that much."
"I do," said the confident young lady.
An idea came to him. "I'm making Pippa Passes by Brown-
ing. I'll try you out here and now."
"What do I have to do?"
"You carry a guitar and pretend you're playing and singing.
Let me see you do it."
A guitar was brought.
She strummed her way across the set.
"You're engaged. I'll put make-up on you."
He got the make-up box and dabbed some white on her face.
In a few minutes the scene was made.
"Here's your blue slip. Go to the business office and you
can get your money."
"How much do I get?"
"I told you what I get," said the firm-minded girl.
He made out a new slip and gave it to her, defeated by this
assured beauty who had swum into his studio.
With two temperamental people working together sparks
were sure to fly. One day Mary came to the studio and with
her came Charlotte— and Lottie had quite a bit of temperament
herself. The picture was To Save Her Soul. In it Mary was to
play a wronged church-choir singer, a part just then very
popular with a shocked but eager public.
The scene called for the stark drama that Griffith loved so
His Secret Marriage Continues 53
well. Mary had on a velvet dress with a long train; the dress
was fastened in the back with safety pins and was none too
sturdy. Under no circumstances was she to turn her back to
the camera. The scene began. The man who had deceived
Mary wanted her to come with him; when she refused, he
whipped out a pistol and pointed it at her. Arthur Johnson,
who was playing the part, had consumed too many beers at
lunch and was now in such a hazy state that he could hardly
hold his wobbly pistol. Mary tried to look frightened out of
her wits, but was not able to "get into" the scene. Griffith
rehearsed it several times, but still she didn't play it as he
wished. Suddenly his temper flared and, seizing her roughly
by the shoulders, he shook her, shouting, "What's the matter
with you? Can't you play it with feeling?"
Mary was so shocked to have him shake her, so outraged,
that she fought back, and the fragile dress fell apart. "How
dare you lay hands on me?" she cried.
"To teach you how to act."
"I can act."
"You can't. You're a stick of wood."
She bit him.
Before the astonished man knew what was happening, Lottie
rushed at him and began to pummel him with her fists, and to
kick him, screaming at the top of her voice, "How dare you
do that to my sister, you horrid man?"
He stared at the two outraged girls. "Get out of here, you
wild cats! " he roared.
"We'll get out and we'll stay out!" said Mary and, picking
up the train of her velvet dress, swept out of the set. When
she got to the little cubbyhole that was her dressing room,
Lottie began to take out the safety pins. When the dress was
54 Star Maker
off, Mary threw it on the floor, got into her street clothes, and
soon the two girls were on the street.
Griffith had had a few minutes to think and now hurried
after the enraged girls. "Excuse me, Mary," he said contritely.
"My nerves were on edge. I'm truly sorry. Come on back;
let's finish the picture and be friends."
After a time Mary went back to her cubbyhole, rescued the
dress, and soon was again on the movie set, facing the wobbly
pistol. The bitter struggle had aroused her; the scene went off
like a dream.
Griffith and Mary Pickford continued to work together,
each gaining respect for the other. But Mary wanted money;
she was adamant. Griffith, pressed by the business office, could
not give it to her.
Pippa Passes was released October 4, 1909— the first motion
picture the New York Times ever reviewed. The Times
(October 10, 1909) said, "The motion picture audiences have
received it with applause and are asking for more." Griffith
had won out in his struggle with the business office— at least
for the time being.
To Save Her Soul also was released. The scene where the
despicable man threatened the innocent choir singer sent
shivers down the backs of the audience. The pistol never once
HE MAKES A TWO-REEL PICTURE
-THE MANAGEMENT IS
It is almost incredible how fast Griffith
worked and how many one-reel pictures he made— and how
good they were. However, he held them in contempt— he'd
make them his way, let the whirlwind come. He said, "I have
to earn a living in this sorry mess in order to so something
He had grown up in the shadow of the War Between the
States; his father had told him tales of the war years and "re-
construction," and now, fired by all this, he began to write a
history of the Civil War. Busy as he was, he found time to
read war books and to make notes. He would show the South's
point of view.
And now he wrote more and more in secret. At first he had
dictated parts of his play to Linda, but he no longer did so.
His plays came back; when this happened there was a forced
silence between the two. Once he had sung plantation songs for
her amusement; now he ceased.
He was a constant puzzle to Billy Bitzer. "It ees not done zo,
Mr. GreefHth," he would say.
"It is done zo mit us, Billy," he would say.
The first picture of his new star to be released was The Vio-
lin Maker of Cremona; it was released June 7, 1909, and was
$6 Star Maker
considered one of the best pictures Biograph had made. An-
other picture Mary Pickford played in was The Lonely Villa-
written by none other than Mack Sennett who still was secretly
yearning to make a picture about funny policemen. In the
isolated house, as related by the former ironworker, was the
mother and with her were her three little daughters. Bad men
came and pounded on the door. One of the villainous men was
Mack Sennett, disguised in a magnificent beard. At the last
moment the mother and her three terrified daughters were
rescued and all was well in the once-troubled villa. Mack Sen-
nett did better financially than any other member of the cast,
for he got fifteen dollars for the story and five dollars each for
the two days he worked. Motion pictures were definitely
The exhibitors were beginning to ask, "What's happened at
Biograph? It's the best in the business."
The studios stole stories right and left. If someone had sug-
gested to a studio manager that an author should be paid, the
studio manager would have looked at the man as if he were
mad. In 1909 Biograph stole Jack London's Just Meat, a story
of Alaska. The title was changed to For Love of Gold and the
story given to Griffith.
The story dealt with two thieves who began to distrust each
other. In the climax, the drama depended on what each thief
was thinking. In other words, the audience should be able to
read the minds of each. The method that had always been used
was by what was called "dream balloons." This was a bit of
double-exposure in which the "dream balloon" told what
was going on in the person's mind.
Griffith had an idea. Instead of setting up the camera and
photographing the scene from beginning to end without mov-
ing the camera, he would pick up the camera and bring it near
He Makes a Two-Reel Picture $j
enough the actors to show every expression on their faces. He
told Billy what he wanted.
Billy looked at him incredulously. "You mean pick oop
the camera, when de scene is going on, and carry it around?
Excuse me, Mr. Greeffith, it is not done."
"We'll do it," said Griffith, and after a great deal of grum-
bling Billy picked "oop" the camera.
The story came alive. Audiences could see an actor's face
and understand what he was thinking. No one knew it but this
was a bill of divorcement between stage and cinema.
The business office did not like the innovation. The ex-
hibitors would not like the change, the business office said.
Their audiences expected a certain kind of picture and would
not like crazy ideas.
Billy warned Griffith of the business-office attitude.
"I'm going to move the camera still closer in my next
picture," said Griffith.
"It ees not done, Mr. Greeffith," said the beaten man.
Griffith was revolutionizing motion pictures— nothing less.
He invented, or introduced, startling innovations: the close-up,
the long shot, the moving camera, the vista, the vignette, the
fade in, the fade out, the iris effect, the high-angle shot, the
low-angle shot, back lighting, the so-called "Rembrandt light-
ing." On top of this he advanced the art of storytelling by
cutting and editing. He discovered how to show two lines of
action in different places at the same time and not addle the
audience. In the realm of motion-picture making he was doing
what was almost unbelievable.
At first, in the studio, among the employees, he had been
"D. W." ; then he had become "Mr. D. W." Now he was being
referred to as "The Master." This praise and adulation meant
58 Star Maker
nothing to him. He looked down on it— and went on working
secretly at home on something that would be worth-while.
No player was known by name. This was exactly what Bio-
graph wanted. If anybody knew the names of the players, they
might ask for more money— a shocking situation. In spite of
this, now and then a letter wandered in addressed "To the little
girl with the long curls." In subcaption, in one of the pictures,
Griffith referred to her as "Little Mary." Immediately she be-
came known as "Little Mary."
No exhibitor in America knew the name of D. W. Griffith,
which was as he wanted it. When he signed a contract, he was
Lawrence Griffith; when he got anything published, he was
David Wark Griffith. "Wark" was a family name on his
Griffith worked in his own way, telling no one in the man-
agement what he was doing. And he worked from no outlines;
the word "scenario" hadn't been invented. He did not even
use notes. It was all in his head. When time came to rehearse a
scene, he told the actors what was going to happen and how
they should react and what kind of characters they were to
interpret. No actor knew the beginning of a story nor how the
Jeremiah J. Kennedy, the chief owner of the company,
came to Griffith on the set and asked him what he was doing.
Griffith told him he was making Enoch Arden, the famous
poem by Tennyson.
"Why, that's a poem!"
"But a good one."
"It has no action and no chase," persisted the shocked man.
"It has mental drama."
"Things that happen inside your head can't be shown."
"I can show them," said the confident young man.
He Makes a Two-Keel Picture 59
"How long will it be?"
"Two reels," said Griffith.
The other was aghast. "The exhibitors will not book it.
Cut it down to one reel of fourteen minutes."
"It takes two reels to tell the story."
"But we can't sell it."
The manager left, believing that Griffith had realized his
mistake and was going to change the film. A few days later the
manager was invited into the tiny projection room; he was
shocked at what he saw.
"I thought I told you to put it in one reel."
"I'm sorry, but it couldn't be done," said Griffith.
The manager released one reel, May, 1 9 1 1 , with word that
the second reel would be sent next week. There were, however,
so many telephone calls and telegrams that the manager had
to give in and let the exhibitors have the two reels together.
It was a humiliating experience.
The business office kept pressing Griffith to turn out the
pictures— get in the money. He was willing to turn out the
pictures, but he wanted them to be artistic. The business office
couldn't understand such a farfetched point of view. If a pic-
ture made money, it was artistic. The business office had a way
of driving straight to the point.
Everybody dashed off stories. The actors wrote them
while waiting at the studio. The stories were turned over to
the editor who accepted some; as to the others, he followed the
immemorial way of editors.
The story standard, however, was rising and, after a time,
stories became more difficult to come by. In May, 19 10, when
Griffith was in California, he decided to make a film of
Ramona, the famous Indian love story by Helen Hunt Jack-
son. He paid her a hundred dollars for the story. The business
60 Star Maker
office was shocked. What would greedy writers demand next?
In San Diego, R. Beers Loos was running a motion-picture
theater. He had a daughter named Anita who saw the pictures
from behind; the screen was thin, so it was easy to see the pic-
ture from behind. By twisting her neck a little, she could read
the reversed subtitles.
"I can write stories as good as that," said the little miss, and
forthwith set about it. When she finished, she climbed the iron
ladder into the projection room, got the name Biograph and
the address from the tin box that contained the reels, signed
the name "A. Loos" to the story, and sent The Neiv York Hat
on its way.
After a reasonable length of time back came a check for
fifteen dollars— a fortune.
The story came to Griffith, and he put Mary Pickf ord in it.
At this time an "uptown actor" (who hadn't been doing
too well) heard about the gold mine and journeyed down to
Fourteenth Street to see if he could strike pay dirt— Lionel
Barrymore. Griffith was greatly impressed by the name and
offered him a part in the picture.
Barrymore said, "Can I wear a wig?"
All knew what that meant— so friends would not recognize
"No," said Griffith, who wanted reality in his pictures.
Barrymore grumbled but went ahead and played the part.
The pay was nice.
The studio did not relax in its determined efforts to keep
Little Mary anonymous. One day, however, two girls showed
up at the studio and told a kind of casual doorman they wanted
to see Gladys Smith.
The man had never heard of her. "What picture has she
He Makes a Two-Keel Picture 61
"Lena and the Geese" said one of the girls.
"I don't remember anybody named Smith in that picture."
"She has long curls."
A smile of understanding spread across his face. "Oh! I
know," said the delighted man. "That's Little Mary."
He dashed off and in a few minutes came back with Mary
of the Curls.
What a reunion that was— Mary and the Gish sisters. Little
Mary and Lillian had been "child actresses." In a way, Lillian's
story paralleled Mary's. She was born in Springfield, Ohio, and
was three years younger than Little Mary. Lillian was the
daughter of James Gish, a traveling salesman who contributed
little or nothing to the support of the family and, almost before
she knew it, Lillian was on the stage in a play called Her First
False Step. This unfortunate step had been taken by her
mother. The unspeakable man now wanted to get rid of the
mother, but she would not let him go. The man warned the
mother that if she did not let him go, she would regret it. He
was connected with a circus and the circus had live lions, and
the lions were on the stage, lashing their tails and showing
their cruel teeth. They were, of course, in a cage. At exactly
the right moment the heartless man seized little Lillian and
threw her into the lions' cage— Lillian sending up a shriek that
startled the lions.
However, it was not quite so dangerous as the audience be-
lieved. The cage had been contrived with great cunning.
There was a sliding partition between the shrieking Lillian and
the ferocious animals. The partition was operated by wires
which could not be seen, even from the front rows. At the
right moment the hero dashed in, snatched up Lillian, and
dashed out, slamming the cage door behind him. From behind
the scene the invisible partition was deftly opened and in
62 Star Maker
rushed the savage, snarling beasts. So tense, so exciting was the
scene that women in the audience fainted; strong men shud-
dered. But Lillian always made it, leaving the frustrated lions
Dorothy had been a child actress, too, but had never been
thrown to the lions. However, night after night she'd had
narrow escapes from express trains running at fearful speed
Mary started to show her two old friends over the studio.
On the way she met Mr. D. W.
"They're friends of mine," she explained; "they're actresses."
He looked at them with interest. "Mary, when you finish,
bring them to me."
When they came, he talked to the two visitors, meanwhile
studying them. "Come with me. I want to show you our new
The three— Griffith and the two sisters— went into a studio
filled with stage sets and a thousand odds and ends. "Walk
ahead of me," he said. He made a silent signal to an electrician
and suddenly the studio was flooded with garish Cooper-
Hewitt lights that made the girls look like walking dead. Lil-
lian wanted to leave, but she could not quite tell him so. "Walk
ahead of me," he said again.
The two girls started on, their strange-acting host following
Suddenly, directly behind them, a shot rang out. The two
whirled and there stood Griffith with a smoking pistol in his
"Walk ahead of me," he said, and now the girls, believing
they were in the hands of a madman, walked ahead at a lively
pace. Another shot rang out and, when they turned, there he
He Makes a Two-Reel Picture 63
stood again, the smoking pistol in his hand. "I think it's going
to be all right."
What did the man mean?
The explanation was not long in coming. He said he was
going to start a picture which was to be called The Unseen
Enemy. The climax dealt with two girls alone in a house, when
burglars entered and soon discovered the girls. The terrified
girls managed to get to the telephone and started to call the
police. There was a stovepipe hole in the wall, and through
this the burglars began to shoot at the girls. But the brave girls
kept on telephoning; finally the police arrived and all was well,
as things were at this time in his pictures.
"I wanted to see how you would stand up under fire," he
said. "Come back tomorrow."
When they got there he could not tell them apart, so much
alike did the sisters look, so he tied a blue hair ribbon on Lillian
and a red one on Dorothy. They posed in the burglar picture,
standing up heroically under fire. And thus, so casually, did
people, at this time, become screen pioneers.
Most directors hurried through rehearsals— anything was
good enough; no exhibitor ever complained about the quality
of the acting. But Griffith didn't hurry.
He rehearsed until the actors were exhausted. "We'll run
through it again." How well they knew that loud, self-
confident, demanding voice with a slight southern accent.
Over and over the scenes the players went, Griffith, with his
floppy hat, watching them like a lynx. Poor acting enraged
him. "I don't see why you can't do it," he would say harshly.
"You're supposed to be an actor, aren't you? Do it this way."
Then he would go through the part, never taking off his hat.
"Remember, thought can be photographed. Is the audience
reading your mind, or is your mind blank to begin with? " He
64 Star Maker
was cruel and sarcastic. If a girl under his storming broke into
tears, he would say, "Get the shower over and get into the
scene." Sometimes the cast hated him. But in some strange way
they were devoted to him. They learned more from him than
from any other director. He was the greatest director in the
Calls came in for the pictures he directed. The business office
watched him apprehensively. He might demand more money
—a deplorable situation.
In spite of the efforts of the money men to hide the names
and personalities of the players, the public was beginning to
want to know more about the actors they saw on the screen.
One morning Mary Pickford happened to start up the brown-
stone steps at the same time as Griffith did.
"Mr. Griffith, last night I met an old friend and she told
me she had sent a letter to me in care of this studio. I've never
Griffith, who had to work under the ruling of the business
office, said, "The cast is not allowed to receive mail in care
of the studio."
"If there is mail here for me, I have a right to get it," said
Little Mary with large determination.
"I told you the rules. The letter '11 have to go back."
"I want you to go to the business office with me and tell
them to let me have my letter."
The two went to the business office, glowering at each other.
There were twenty- two letters; they had come in, not ad-
dressed by name but by description— "the little girl with the
curls" being the most popular.
Little Mary was a bit awed herself. "I never had that many
in all the time I was with Belasco." And now thrifty, money-
He Makes a Two-Reel Picture 6$
conscious Little Mary said, "If I get that many letters I ought
to be paid more."
A cold chill went down his back; and one went down the
backs of the studio owners when Griffith told them the alarm-
Griffith himself was coming into conflict with this stern
reality of the business office. He was spending too much
money, the business office said. He was not being allowed
enough, he said.
At about this time he made The Battle at Elderberry Gulch.
I wrote Mae Marsh in Hermosa Beach, California, and asked
if she had any memories of the making of the picture. Her
"One thing that stands out in my memory is this. In the
picture were Lillian Gish, Lionel Barrymore, Harry Carey,
myself, and others. We were undergoing an Indian attack. At
one place in the story Lillian Gish was sitting on the steps in
front of the cabin. Harry Carey was to point a pistol at her,
and this the brave Harry Carey did. But Lillian wasn't as
frightened as Mr. D. W. thought she should be, so he touched
Billy Bitzer on the shoulder, which meant for him to start the
camera, then crept up behind Lillian and shot off the pistol.
The effect was fine— Lillian almost jumped out of her skin and
we escaped from the treacherous Indians."
David and Linda began to drift apart. She spoke belittlingly
of his writings. Directing was going to get him ahead; writing
wasn't. What had he to show for the time he had worked at
writing? One play— a failure. Half-a-dozen plays that had in-
terested no producer. A poem in a weekly; two or three articles
in small, out-of-the-way magazines. His revenge was no longer
to put her in the plays he directed. Instead of going home in
66 Star Maker
the evening to eat dinner, he ate in restaurants, sometimes
moodily by himself, sometimes with people from the studio.
When he got home, he would not tell her where he had been,
or with whom he had been. She felt he was hiding a great deal.
The breach widened. He never dreamed now of singing planta-
She no longer wanted to go to the studio where he was
looked up to and admired, and began to go to the other studios.
She was a pretty woman, and had talent. She did not tell him
where or in what roles she was going to appear, for she, too,
was becoming secretive.
One evening, when he came home, she wasn't there. Out to
a picture show with some of her friends, he thought. This was
his opportunity to write, and he got out his manuscripts.
After a time he heard a key in the door and Linda came
in. He spoke briefly and went on with his work. Little as was
the communication between them these days he was sensitive
enough now to feel a change in her manner. There was an air
of triumph about her.
"Here's something I think'll interest you." She held up a
slip of paper.
He was mystified. What was she leading up to? That was
her way, he'd found— beginning with something that seemed
to have nothing to do with them, then suddenly presenting it
full force. "It's a railroad pass to California."
She waited as if to enjoy what must be a shock to him.
"When are you going?" he asked.
"Tomorrow. I'm going to be leading lady for Kinemacolor! "
He began to pull at his fingers, as he so often did when
under a strain. "You'd better make sure what you're doing. I
don't think they're a very stable company."
He Makes a Two-Keel Picture 6j
"I do! I had a long talk with the president and he told me of
their wonderful plans."
"They all have wonderful plans. I'll send you money, Linda.
You've never been a woman to waste money, the way some
wives are. I'll do the best I can by you."
She went into another room and began to prepare for bed.
He sat, recovering from the shock. How quickly it had come!
How sharp it was. How wonderful life had seemed when they
had married five years ago. And now this. He sat for some
moments, listening to the sounds she made, then again began
HE LONGS TO BE AN
The next morning he slipped quietly out
to a restaurant and got breakfast. That evening, when he came
home from the studio, Linda was gone. Everything was neatly
in place, for she was a careful housekeeper. As he looked at the
things, so orderly and so much like her, he reproached himself.
He had not been as good a husband as he should have been.
"Why didn't I try harder?" he asked himself.
The studio had given him some stories to read, but he
couldn't keep his mind on them. The next morning she was
still on his mind. He was late arriving at the studio. Billy
Bitzer was already there, his cap turned around backward,
peering through the lens piece of the camera. How lucky he
was to have him. The two of them would do great things to-
"Billy," he said, "we'll go to California and make the finest
pictures ever made and we'll make a lot of money. Then you
can retire and fool around with your camera and I'll settle
down and write. But I won't write anything for you to smear
on film. I'm going to write for the stage and people of intellect.
You'd be surprised if somebody, in the years to come, said to
you that you'd worked with the American Ibsen, wouldn't
"No, I would not be too surprised."
He Longs to Be an American Ibsen 69
Something else was on his mind. "Billy, I'm upset. So look
on me as charitably as you can if I snap at you."
Billy looked at the long, lean, bony, expressive face. "What
is eet you would snap for, Mr. Greeffith?"
He told him what had happened, the two hovering over the
camera as they talked. Carpenters carrying boards pushed by;
each man seemed to have a cloth loop on the leg of his trousers,
with a tool dangling in the loop. Each man, in the bib of his
overalls, seemed to have a broad, flat carpenter's pencil with
"It ees badt," said Billy, much touched. "I hate always to
see married peoples go their own way. Maybe she come back.
Maybe you go after her undt bring her back."
"I don't think I would do that, Billy"
"You cannot always tell what we will do sometimes most."
With Linda gone, Griffith could not take care of the apart-
ment, so he asked the wife of the janitor if she could find him
a maid. In a few days she said she had a prospect, and a time
was set for an interview. When he got home, the janitor's wife,
who was waiting for him, brought in a large colored woman
with thick lips, a broad square face, and a wide nose. Her name
turned out to be Cora Hawkins, and she was from Virginia.
She had come up No'th because of the urging of her sister, but
things hadn't turned out too well. "I don't feel at home heah,"
she said. "My ma gets my cousin to write me, because my ma
don't write too good. She wants me come home."
He was delighted. Here was somebody he understood, some-
body he sympathized with. And she, recognizing he was a
southerner, understood him. }
"Won't you sit down, Cora?" he said.
"Thank you," she said respectfully, and seated herself.
jo Star Maker
"I was brought up by a colored nurse," he said. " 'Auntie/
we called her. We all loved her."
Cora beamed. "Yes, suh. I know what she must been like.
My ma say the wah change them so they ain't so much like they
used to be."
"The war changed everything," he said feelingly. "People
don't know what the South went through. The part after the
war was worst of all— Reconstruction days."
"That's what my ma say."
"It ruined us. My father died of war wounds. We had to sell
our farm and move to town. It was bitter."
"I know it must been," she said sympathetically.
He asked a delicate question. "Did your family fight for the
"No, suh," said Cora feelingly. "We true southern fam'ly."
The two continued to discuss the War Between the States,
while the janitor's wife listened to this world she knew nothing
"I want to wuk for you, Mr. Griffith," said honest, sincere
Cora, "but I must tell you, after a time I have to leave."
"Why is that, Cora?" he asked in surprise.
She dropped her eyes with the modesty of an old-time darky.
"I'm carryin' a little one."
How many times he had heard that phrase in the South.
He was pleased she was so honest with him and was de-
lighted with her. And so Cora went to work. She took a kind of
possession of him. He was "high-class folks"— the kind she liked
to work for.
He soon found that she had an infectious laugh that showed
her fine, white, flashing teeth. Why, the people of New York
never seemed to laugh so heartily as they did down South. Cer-
He Longs to Be an American Ibsen 71
tainly the northern workers were not so loyal as the colored
people of the South. Cora would be loyal to him, he thought.
He found she took great pride in her cooking and was
pleased to have him bring home a guest; indeed, it never seemed
to make any difference to her how many he brought; some way
or other she managed to take care of them. What a treasure
Cora was! How cheerful she was! What a fine representative
of her race!
He continued to live in two worlds: one was the studio,
the other was his secret writing. The two never crossed. He
told no one at the studio about his writing, except that he had
sold a few story outlines to motion pictures. And he told no
one in the publishing business that he was connected with films.
In addition, he had two personalities: in the studio he was an
arrogant, dominating man who made people do as he wished—
he feared no one. But for some strange reason when he met an
editor, he was meek and humble.
His stories continued to come back. He would again put the
story into the mail— soon it would again be back. These were
bitter moments. Then he received a letter from S. S. McClure,
editor of McClure's Magazine, which said, "We've had a
favorable reading of your short story 'Redemption' and
would like to have you call for an interview." These were
He slipped away from the studio and went to the magazine
and soon was in McClure's private office. McClure was a small,
spare man, with a sickly-looking mustache, reddish hair, and
had, as Griffith soon observed, a way of rubbing the knuckle
of his finger against his nostril. The tall, lean, hawk-nosed
Griffith sat down and the two studied each other, as men do
when they have dealings. A few words of general conversa-
tion followed, then McClure fumbled through his desk and
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pulled out the precious manuscript. To it was attached a carbon
of the letter he had written Griffith.
"Yes, yes," said McClure, brushing his nostrils with his
knuckle. "Yes, indeed," he added thoughtfully. "We have been
impressed by your story. It has the feel of the kind of story we
like. Our magazine is built on a certain theory and we stick to
it. This quality is, I believe, called 'the McClure touch.' " The
great editor smiled pleasantly. "However, we have decided
the story is not for us. You must know," he added hastily,
"this is no reflection on the story. It's only our point of view."
He smiled the cold, impersonal smile that has chilled the blood
of a million writers. "I cannot point out details— that would
take too long. Remember, I am speaking only from our point
of view." He smiled another chilling smile. "If you write an-
other story, I wish you would address it to me personally."
He removed his eyes from Griffith and began to shuffle the
papers on his desk, clearing his throat as he did so.
Griffith arose, humble and repressed, stuffed the manuscript
into his pocket, thanked the great editor for his kindness, and
left. It was not long until he was back in the studio, again the
arrogant, dominating man.
At the studio he worked at a tremendous pace; a thousand
things to do, not enough time to do them in. And yet he looked
down on the work. He'd get out of it as quickly as possible.
Mr. Hackett might take his next play. Or Belasco. The theater
pages of the newspapers would talk about an American Ibsen.
He got ready to sign a new contract with the studio. The
lawyers said he must sign his real name this time. He seemed
almost in pain, as if giving up for the moment something
precious, then picked up the pen and signed his full name.
The business office looked on him icily. He had made two
He Longs to Be an American Ibsen 73
reels out of Enoch Arden— that was something not easy to
forget. And he had made a picture out of that "Pippa" thing—
that was hardest of all to forget. And now, the business office
heard, he was going to make a picture from another poem—
this time something called ''The Bells" by Edgar Allan Poe.
The business office said there was something fundamentally
wrong with the man. Make good, exciting one-reel pictures,
said the business office. Griffith said that one reel was not
time enough to tell a story. The two forces clashed.
Rival companies were telling stories, but their stories were
preposterous, he thought. "All of them end in a silly chase,"
he said. On the other hand, he did not realize that fundamen-
tally his stories had the same basic element. He put the heroine
in extreme peril, and then, at the last moment, rescued the
He was, however, doing things that none of the other di-
rectors were attempting: the moving camera, new ways of
lighting, cutting the film so that two lines of action could be
portrayed at the same time without confusing the audience.
The success of a film was measured by how many prints
were needed to fill the calls that came in from exhibitors. The
average number was fifteen. Soon his pictures were selling
twenty-five. The business office looked on him as a boy might
who has bought from a pet shop a nice, promising dog, which
is turning into a lion. What to do with him? That was the
question. If he didn't sell so many prints, the problem would
be simple. On top of this he was growing more and more
arrogant. And, more and more, he kept his own counsel. Part
of the time the business office didn't even know what he was
making. He used no scenarios, and he told the actors only
enough for them to interpret the action, the mood, and the
feeling of the scene they were to play.
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The business office tried to get from him what he was
doing. "Just experimenting," said the maddening man. The
business office set spies— mostly actors— to report what the fool
was up to. They came back defeated. The more they watched
him, the more confused they became.
Meanwhile, Griffith went on turning out the greatest
money-makers on the market. He worked at a furious rate;
he never seemed to tire. The other directors "ran through"
a scene a time or two, then made it. He rehearsed his cast
until the players were ready to drop. Nothing but perfection
suited him. So furiously did he work, so great was his energy,
that he was turning out two one-reel pictures a week. They
were not all distinguished, but they were the best being made.
He knew this and took advantage of it. He seemed to like to
quarrel with the business office. It was as if, subconsciously,
he held them guilty for his failure to sell the things he was
The strange friendship between him and Mack Sennett con-
tinued—Griffith, cold, aloof, intellectual; Mack Sennett, the
tobacco-chewing former ironworker who thought that read-
ing was a waste of time. Now and then Mack opined that
he would like to be a director and make funny pictures about
policemen. Griffith again told him that the dignity of the law
must be upheld.
"I've got more ideas on the subject," said the unsinkable
Mack. "I want to put a bunch of pretty girls in the picture."
"You'd better put an idea into your picture. All my stories
have something fundamental in them."
"There's something fundamental about a pretty girl," said
Mack, chewing his tobacco thoughtfully.
Griffith's love of art was deep and sincere; the shoddy
aroused his scorn. One of the measuring rods used by the
He Longs to Be an American Ibsen y$
studios, as an example of a successful scene, was one that had
been issued early in film history. It was called "The Fifty
Foot Kiss." It showed two favorite comedians— May Irwin
and John C. Rice— engaged in the longest and most fantastic
bit of low comedy that had come along. Other directors spoke
admiringly of the scene. But not Griffith. "Why didn't they
make it a hundred feet long? That would make it twice as
good, wouldn't it?" he said scornfully. "A film," he continued,
expounding his philosophy of picture making, "is a coopera-
tive effort between the director and the audience. A director
shows a bit of human emotion; the audience fills in the rest.
The better the film, the greater the cooperation between di-
rector and audience."
Another scene from the old Alutoscope days that picture
people talked about was Fred Ott's sneeze. "Anybody could
pose for the scene and anybody could direct it," he said in
his lordly way.
The grip motion pictures were beginning to have was amaz-
ing; the little nickelodeon had suddenly blossomed out as a
respectable theater. Griffith and others were bringing selective
audiences into the theater. The "great unwashed," who had
kept the nickelodeon going, were now attending the movies,
and so were the denizens of the upper social and financial
brackets. Suddenly the intelligentsia discovered the movies.
They began to write in ecstatic terms about the "art of the
cinema"; not only this but they turned out poems praising
it to the sky. The movies had gone through many trying
situations, so stood up under this new one. In truth, never had
such an overwhelming change of entertainment habit come
into the lives of the American people as Griffith and his con-
temporaries were bringing about.
Interviewers came to talk to him. He told them little about
j6 Star Maker
himself, except that he was the son of Colonel Griffith of
Kentucky. He misled them about his age and his background.
He became self-conscious that he hadn't even gotten into
high school but intimated that he had attended the University
of Kentucky. In fact, it cannot be set down that he, at that
time, had ever seen the place. The interviewers asked him his
theory of movie entertainment. He didn't want to puff up
something in which he didn't have his heart, so he developed
a kind of jargon. The movies, he said, were a plastic art; their
very heart and core was beauty. "What is beauty?" he would
ask solemnly. "It is the wind rippling golden wheat." "It is
the smile on a baby's face." "It is the secret mirror that every
human being has in his heart into which he looks and sees
something greater than himself." They were lovely sentences;
the only catch was that they didn't make sense, and defined
He hinted more things than he actually said. If the inter-
viewers wanted to form their own conclusions, that was all
right with him. He never contradicted anything that appeared
in the papers or magazines. All he wanted was publicity for
his stars and his pictures. When his plays were produced, then
he would welcome personal publicity.
The result of all this was that people were coming to the
movie theaters. That was the important thing. Also, as a
result, the theater touring companies and the stock companies
were beginning to suffer. Actors no longer slipped off to a
film studio with a turned-up collar and a pulled-down hat.
There was talk of how much "pictures" were paying— enchant-
ing words. Motion pictures were being treated with more
respect; hardly anyone now called them "the flickers."
And these days, as he worked and experimented, he made
the discovery that, in close-ups, the success of the "shot" was
He Longs to Be an American Ibsen 77
not dependent on the actor, but on what the actor was doing,
what the camera revealed, and how the shot fitted into the
mood of the story. In other words, he could put almost any
actor in the scene and have a successful picture if the "shot"
was right. To this "close-up" he added what he called a "long
shot." He began to combine the two, with an intermediate
shot in between. The effect was magical. But he kept the
secret to himself. Sooner or later other directors would find
out, but until then it was his child.
The days went along. His prodigious energy continued.
Nearly every picture he released had some innovation, some
bit of technique no other picture had. His stories ran to one
class— the faithful "last-minute rescue"— the very kind he had
been so contemptuous of at first. A change came over him: he
began to search for historical stories dealing with social themes
—"big stories," he called them. In addition, he was beginning
to like stories that had scenes of violence.
He thought of war. The impression the aftermath of the
Civil War had made on him was deep. He thought, from time
to time, of the face of Christ he had seen that morning. War
and Christ— those two were often in his mind.
His idea of the kind of girl an audience wanted to see was
quite opposite from the one the theater chose to present. On
the spoken stage a girl could be much older, much more
mature, and much plumper than the one he wanted to put
into his pictures. He believed that a stage star could not sur-
vive a close-up, so he selected young, demure girls to be his
leading ladies. He was right. Movie audiences wanted 'em
young and unsophisticated— and this was exactly what he was
giving them. The demand for the Mary Pickford and the
Lillian Gish and Dorothy Gish type of girl went up. He was
the only director supplying this kind of appeal; the exhibitors
y8 Star Maker
knew this and pounded at his doors. Any other director would
have been delighted, but Griffith looked on his success as a
private acknowledgment that he had not succeeded where it
Audiences who watched the fleeting shadows on the screen
wanted to know the real names of the people, where they
lived, their love affairs. Griffith had been putting the names
of the cast on the screen and now letters came flooding into
The business office wanted Griffith himself to put his name
on his pictures, for, in the trade, he had become well known.
The exhibitors talked of a "Griffith picture" and, what was
more, wanted to book it. The chief owner of Biograph
sent for Griffith to come to his office which was in an uptown
building. Once Griffith would have rushed there as fast as he
could go, but now he was becoming independent.
Finally he got to the office.
There was some preliminary conversation, then the man-
ager said, "We want you to put your name on your films."
This was the last thing in the world he wanted— to advertise
to the world he had not made a success of the thing he wanted
"I'll put the names of the cast, but not mine."
An argument followed; finally he gave in. "AH right, I'll
put it on."
When his next picture was released, his name was on it, ex-
actly as he had agreed, but it was cut down to D. W. Griffith.
He would save his full name for his plays.
One evening, as Cora served the dinner, she was ill at ease;
something was on her mind. Finally she spoke: "Mr. David,
I got somethin' to tell you. I got to go an' leave you."
He Longs to Be an American Ibsen 79
"You mean the little one?"
"Yes. I've been so happy wukking for you. I feel so bad I
got to go."
"I feel bad to have you go, Cora," he said sincerely.
Thev talked of other things, then she said with pride: "I
got a white doctah. I am only a poor colored woman, but I like
to have high-class people around me."
He was touched. "I'll tell you what I'm going to do, Cora.
I'm going to give you fifty dollars for the big event."
She was speechless, so delighted, so overwhelmed was she.
"Mr. David," she finally managed to say, "I don't know when
I ever see anybody I feel so good toward. You're my people,
"You're my people, too," he said warmly— this man who so
much of the time was impersonal and aloof.
When Cora finished her work, she gathered up her few
possessions and left. He sat thinking about her for a few mo-
ments, then got out his writing material.
HE MAKES A FOUR-REELER
After Cora left he became discontented
with his apartment and moved to the Hotel Astor. He was now
part of Broadway, the world he would soon be writing for. He
liked to stalk through the lobby in his lordly way and have
people ask who he was. He told the hotel help he was a
playwright, and encouraged people to believe he was one.
Paul Armstrong, the dramatist of the day, was living at the
hotel. Whenever Griffith saw him in the lobby, he would go
up to him and talk animatedly, looking out of the corner of his
eyes to see if people were watching.
As money began to come in, he found he liked the feel of
it. It was the mark of the successful. He started to spend freely;
more would come in. As soon as he had enough to feel secure,
he would throw over this whole miserable business.
A daring idea came to him. He would make a four-reel
But what to make the picture about? His mind went to his
early days, as it so often did when he was working out an idea,
and recalled a story his sister Mattie had read to him from the
Apocrypha— the story of Judith. He had been thrilled then;
did it have the same power? He reread that sanguinary saga:
Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian war king, was winning
right and left; the world would soon be his— so he thought. He
sent his general— Holofernes— to tear down the temple in Jeru-
He Makes a Four-Reeler 81
salem. And Holof ernes just about had his way. The people he
was attacking were soon starving. Their end seemed not far
away. But there was a charming widow who lived in Bethulia
hard by— Judith of Bethulia she was called. She said in effect,
"Let me see this vain man. I'll twist his nose." She dressed her-
self in dazzling raiment, took her maid, and went to the enemy
camp and asked to see Holofernes. When the guard demanded
why she wanted to see Holofernes she said, "I have something
to tell him"— which proved to be an exceedingly mild state-
ment. When she was led before the great warrior, he was
gruff and suspicious and said, "What is it you have to tell me?"
"I want to speak of love," said Judith, blushing becomingly.
"Well," said the mighty warrior.
As might be expected, the general succumbed to her beauty;
in fact, he was so delighted with her charms and witty con-
versation that he ordered a great banquet to be given in her
honor. This turned out to be a mistake in judgment, for he
became intoxicated and lay down on the floor, completely
pie-eyed. This was the moment Judith had been waiting for.
"I will dance for you," she said. She did dance for him for a
few minutes, then gave a leap and cut off his head; she danced
with this, performing all kinds of graceful steps. Finally she
handed the head to her maid, who did not really want it. The
death of Holofernes gave the Jews confidence and they fell
upon the enemy and killed them in great numbers. Judith had
won for her people. It was a bloody story of sex and war, but,
as Griffith reread it, he liked it. The public would, too.
He told Billy Bitzer his idea. "Billy, I've got a tremendous
idea! It's to make a four-reel picture."
"It cannot be done, Mr. Greeffith. The business office will
think it is crazy and will give you no money."
"I'll go ahead, anyway."
82 Star Maker
"Dot would be badt. What is it the picture about?" asked
"It's a story from the writings at the time of the Bible.
Judith of Bethulia is the heroine. A wicked king has been op-
pressing her people. She goes to a great banqueting hall, gets
the king inebriated, cuts off his head, and dances with it."
"She dances mit der king's head?" asked the shocked man.
"Yes, on a platter. It will be a wonderful scene."
"Do peoples want to see a girl dancing mit a head on a
"They will the way I'll handle it."
Billy studied the man he admired so greatly. "For anybody
else I would say it is crazy and I t'ink maybe it is for you."
"You'll like it when you see it."
"I neffer want to see anybody dancing mit a head on a plate."
Griffith was alarmed. "You'll stay with me anyway, won't
you, Billy? You won't run off and join some other director,
"I will stay mit you, no matter how crazy you can be."
"Billy, did you ever stop to think that most of the people
who have done new and different things have been considered
crazy? Did you ever stop to think of that?"
"Yes, I have t'ink of it. But maybe dis time peoples are
Griffith had made up his mind; he was going to let nothing
The tension between Griffith and the officers of Biograph
had been growing. Why didn't he make the kind of pictures
the exhibitors wanted? they asked. One-reel pictures were
sold in advance, on a regular booking schedule, yet the man
wanted to make two-reelers.
His players had become known as the "Griffith Actors"
He Makes a Four-Reeler 83
and were the best-known group of film players in America.
He had taken them when they were unknown and made them
national figures. He had command of them, as a father might
have of his children. The jealousy between them was
endless. Owen Moore— the gay-hearted Irishman— had fallen
in love with Mary Pickford; the two had quarrels and spats
and came to him with their troubles. And the jealous ones came
to him with their troubles, too. And he settled them as a father
might. His control of his players was almost hypnotic. They
would do as he wished, even if some of the time his solutions
didn't seem to make sense. But in some mysterious way things
worked out right. His pictures were a succession of triumphs.
Actors began to boast of being a Griffith player. No lowered
eyes now. They even talked of the "old days" when they'd
worn a wig so their friends wouldn't recognize them.
His players were Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Blanche
Sweet, Robert Harron, Mae Marsh, Henry B. Walthall, Jack
Pickford, Owen Moore, James Kirkwood, Donald Crisp, Mary
Pickford— and faithful Billy Bitzer.
Sundays he set aside for himself. Most of such a day he
spent either reading or writing; now and then he went to the
Methodist Church, the church he had been brought up in, the
one his mother attended. In the early days his mother had told
him she wished he would become a minister. So important was
the church in Crestwood that when he became an actor his
name was taken off the church roll. His mother had always
been sensitive about this disgrace, and when he came to see
her, she mentioned it, still hurt.
These Sundays in the hotel he felt he really lived. He could
do exactly as he wished; no quarrels with the business office,
no one to tell him he was not making the kind of pictures the
exhibitors wanted. And he could swing his Indian clubs when-
84 Star Maker
ever he wished. They had become more and more a part of his
life, along with his dumb bar bells and weights. They helped
make him strong, he believed, and kept him healthy. He liked
to swing them, dressed only in his underclothes, now and then
taking a healthy, deep breath and giving a satisfied grunt.
On this day the telephone rang and when he answered, the
operator said that "Cora" wanted to talk to him. "Could I
come up an' see you, Mr. David?"
Maybe she was in trouble. Colored people were always
getting into trouble and coming to their white friends. Well,
it was nice to have a friend who was as loyal as Cora.
"You certainly can, Cora," he said heartily. "I'm doing my
exercises, but you come on, anyway."
There she was when he opened the door— that unusually
black face, that broad body, the fine white teeth. She gave a
little start at seeing his thin, angular body in his underwear,
but in a moment her embarrassment was gone. In her arms was
a bundle of flounces and ribbons; a small black face stared out.
He was delighted; it was an honor for her to bring the baby
for him to see. Cora and David talked about the child and
how she was getting along, then she said, "Mr. David, I got a
surprise for you. This is David G. Hawkins! He named for
He and Cora laughed and talked in the easy way they had
when he had been living in the cramped little flat.
At last the surprise visit was over and Cora left with little
"Davie" in her arms. After she was gone, he felt lonesome;
here had been a touch of the Old South in the days when the
Griffiths had a plantation and servants, before the family had
been ruined by the Reconstruction. But the mood did not last
long. Picking up his Indian clubs, he began to exercise again,
drawing fresh breaths and giving little grunts of satisfaction.
He Makes a Four-Reeler 8$
Then he took a bath, pulled out his papers, and began to write,
the fine fire of creation blazing in him.
Something new came into his life.
From the very first, in order to save money, many scenes had
been taken outdoors. And this still held. But the background
and settings were chosen more carefully. The New Jersey
Palisades would hardly pass for the Alps and a stuffed turkey
would hardly pass as a fighting eagle.
California— golden California!— where outdoor pictures
could be taken all winter long. That was the solution. Small
companies of picture makers had gone out; their expenses had
been whacked in half. And so "Mr. D. W." prepared to take
his children and go to that heavenly spot.
He made two pictures but his mind was on his "big" pro-
duction that was going to thrill the public and put America
far ahead in the picture race. Pictures were being imported
from France and Italy; in many ways they were better than
American pictures. One reason for this was that the foreign
pictures were not hampered by the "Trust" that had got a
stranglehold on American pictures. A silent warfare had been
going on for four years— the Trust against the small independ-
ent producers. Gangs of ruffians had been hired by the Trust
to break up any picture company that did not use their cameras
and pay the license fees demanded. Men posing as "extras"
came on the set; suddenly they would swoop down on the
camera, knocking it to pieces and exposing the film. Not only
this, but there had been mysterious fires in the laboratories; in
truth, a reign of terror had been going on. Yet Griffith had
survived. In some amazing way he had managed to make pic-
tures. Now, in California, he would not have so many prob-
86 Star Maker
lems to contend with— and he could make outdoor pictures all
winter. It was heaven, indeed.
At such a driving pace did he go that three days after he
and his players arrived in Hollywood he was making a picture.
His confidence in himself was unlimited. He considered him-
self a genius. He would make pictures such as had never been
made before. He believed this, and he made others believe it.
The other companies, working in Hollywood, did little or
no rehearsing. They "ran through" a scene a time or two, then
began to crank. But this did not do for Griffith; he rehearsed
his players until they hated him— for the time being. None of
the cameramen knew how fast to turn, so they counted how
many times the handle went around in a minute. Sometimes,
when the picture was on the screen, it went by with dizzying
rapidity; sometimes it moved slowly and uncertainly. But audi-
ences did not hoot. America was becoming "picture conscious";
this was the most superb kind of entertainment America had
ever known. People were flocking to the theaters. Audiences
wanted more and more to know about the actors they saw on
the screen. The picture companies reversed themselves: they
now sent out publicity boasting how many letters their stars
got each week.
There always had been a bond between the aloof D. W.
Griffith and the heavy-handed, tobacco-chewing Mack Sen-
nett, and so, as soon as he got to Los Angeles, Griffith hired a
car and driver and went to Glendale to see his friend. He felt
sorry for Mack, for Mack was a likable fellow but was ap-
proaching the picture business from the wrong angle. He
should not make a mistake in the business which, every day,
was becoming more competitive. He should be making
He expected to find his old friend in some fenced-off back
He Makes a Four-Reeler 8j
lot doing the best he could with the few dollars he could scrape
up. The car stopped before a high board fence. There was a
door and there was a gate. A uniformed guard looked him
over. Griffith stared at the man. Why, he himself had never
had anything like that!
"I want to see Mr. Sennett."
"What's your name?" asked the guard.
Griffith told him.
The guard mumbled into a telephone, listened to a reply,
then opened the door and motioned for Griffith to enter. "Take
him to the boss's office," the man said to another uniformed
guard, and Griffith set off across the lot behind the new man.
Griffith gazed about him in astonishment. Here was a going
studio, a very busy and complicated one. Here were trick cars,
trick furniture, trick sets. Carpenters pounded, plumbers
worked, a medley of people in grease paint and wearing out-
rageous clothes hurried past, paying not the least attention to
him. Bathing beauties, in hardly any clothes at all, sauntered
by, twirling gay parasols over their shoulders. As much as
Griffith knew about studios, he knew little or nothing about
the crazy land of comedy.
Griffith arrived at Mack's office.
Big, lumbering Mack Sennett— who always seemed to be
wearing a hat— seized Griffith's hand. "How are you, D. W.?
Welcome to California. What're you here for?"
"I'm going to make pictures."
"The same goody-goody kind?"
"I think they have a social significance."
Mack smiled at the quaint idea.
"My new one," said Griffith defensively, "is from Bible
88 Star Maker
"It is?" said the astonished Mack. "Do you think people are
interested in Bible stories?"
"They always have been."
"I'd rather put my money on funny policemen."
"We'll see," said Griffith loftily.
The subject was dropped and the two began to talk of what
was already called the days when Mack had been a comedian
in The Curtain Pole. And now Mack spoke of the time when
Griffith had had the fight with the eagle, laughing uproariously
at what now seemed an exceedingly amusing event. But Grif-
fith did not laugh; he wanted to forget it. He spoke, instead,
of the stories he had sold to Biograph and gave the impression,
without quite saying so, that he was selling things to maga-
zines. "How did you get the name Keystone?" he asked,
delicately changing the subject.
"I got it when I was workin' for you, back in New York.
I was walkin' to the Pennsylvania Station with Mr. Kessel.
He was going to take a train to Philadelphia and took a time-
table out of his pocket and I saw the drawing and the word
'Keystone,' and I said to myself, If that's good enough for a
big company like the Pennsylvania Railroad, it's good enough
for me.' That's the way I hooked onto it."
They talked a while longer, then Mack said hospitably,
"Have lunch with me."
"Thanks. I'd like to."
"Do you remember how we used to bring our lunches in a
shoe box?" asked Mack.
The two continued to visit until lunch was ready to be
served in Mack's office. Two of his comedians came in, were
introduced, and sat down at the table. A waiter arrived with a
bowl of soup and started to place it in front of Griffith, then
changed his mind, drank it himself, placed the empty bowl in
He Makes a Four-Reeler 8g
front of Griffith, and went on about his work. A sandwich
was passed and when Griffith took it, the sandwich began to
twitch and jerk. Griffith put down the rubber sandwich and
managed to smile. But not Mack and the comedians; what
they had seen was normal conduct for a sandwich, their
The crazy, impossible meal went on.
"I want to show you my latest Keystone cops," said Alack
when the meal was over, and took him to the projection room
and ran off a comedy. In one scene a comedian started to shave;
for some obscure reason a Hon was immediately behind him,
but the comedian did not see him. Reaching behind him, he got
hold of the lion's tail, and, thinking it was a shaving brush, be-
gan to lather his face.
"Ain't that the funniest scene you ever saw?" said Mack,
slapping his mighty leg with his heavy hand. "That'll knock
'em out of their seats! "
"I'm sure it will," said Griffith with as much enthusiasm as
he could manage.
A bathing beauty in the picture came out with a dog and
started to lead it behind her. But the leash was dropped and,
by mistake, she picked up a rope and began to lead the lion
around, thinking it was her dog.
"Ain't that wonderful?" said Mack, again slapping his leg
and roaring with laughter.
"It certainly is," said Griffith weakly. On the way back to
the office he asked, "Is there any market for pictures like the
one you showed me?"
"Is there! My business office tells me that my pictures are
making more money than yours."
Griffith was stunned. "But they're not significant," he said
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"A picture that makes money is significant," said Mack.
The time came for Griffith to go. Mack called one of the
workmen. "Tom, you're not doing anything. Get a car and
take Mr. Griffith to the Alexandria Hotel."
"Yes, sir," said the man respectfully.
Farewells were said and the unsuspecting Griffith got in.
The car ran a few yards, then began to buck and pitch; there
was an explosion, and the car fell apart. Griffith leaped out,
shocked. The people on the lot, suspecting something, had
gathered around and now laughed heartily at what, to them,
was a delicious bit of comedy, involving what they called a
Griffith was put into Mack's own luxurious car, with a
driver, and finally was on his way. He thought of what Mack
had said of how much money his pictures were making and
how little, by comparison, his own were making. Well, that
would soon change. The success of Judith of Bethulia would
startle fun-loving Mack.
One day in the studio word was brought to him that Mrs.
Loos wanted to see him. He got up promptly and went toward
her; on his head was a great flapping sombrero, tied with a
black shoestring. Here, waiting in a little railed-off place, were
Mrs. Loos and a girl. He approached rapidly and extended his
hand to Mrs. Loos. "It's a pleasure to meet 'A. Loos,' " he said
in his impressive southern way, with a deep bow. "But I always
thought you were a man! "
"I'm not 'A. Loos,' " said the mother. "This is 'A. Loos.' "
Griffith looked at the girl, stunned. "Are you the one I've
been buying stories from?"
"Under the O. Henry influence, I signed them 'A. Loos.' I
was a schoolgirl and I thought I was being very professional."
He Makes a Four-Reeler 91
He continued to look at his prize contributor, hardly be-
ieving. "I never dreamed it was a girl. I tell you," he said
incerely, "writing is a great gift. So few have it."
There were many calls for him, people coming with this
lemand or that, but he continued to talk, still trying to adjust
limself to a new way of thinking. At last Mrs. Loos and her
laughter left, and Griffith returned to his directing.
Griffith was exceedingly careful in selecting his players,
rhey must look the part, and they must feel the part. Actors
vere now— so much had the attitude toward motion pictures
:hanged— eager to be chosen; with reasonable luck, they would
>ecome national figures.
For some time he had been watching Blanche Sweet and now
:hose her for the Jewish Judith, which must have surprised
ler, for she was a blonde. For Holofernes he selected Henry
5. Walthall, also seemingly a strange choice, for Walthall was
l sensitive, gentle man, not at all the warrior type. Lillian Gish
vas the Little Mother in Israel. She was to go among the
)eople, begging water for her baby. Strange choices, but he
>elieved these players had possibilities and that he could bring
hem out. He would soon know.
He selected Chatsworth Park as the place to make the picture
md here it was started in June 191 2. The cast had to get up at
ive in the morning, go by streetcar, but not all the way, for
he streetcar did not quite make it to Chatsworth Park. A hay
vagon met them at the end of the line and jolted off to
Most directors took scenes in the order most convenient;
ometimes the end of the story would be the first photo-
graphed. But Griffith did not follow this order; he directed in
equence; in this way the actors knew what they were por-
raying and could put the right feeling into the scene.
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The hot summer! The heavy oriental costumes! But the cast
continued faithfully under the inspired director. At last the
exteriors were finished and the cast was taken back to New
York where the interiors were made in the Biograph Studio
in the Bronx. Here Holofernes got what he so richly deserved
and Judith danced with the head.
Griffith set about the cutting and the editing of his master-
piece. It was finished February 23, 191 3, and he invited Jere-
miah J. Kennedy, with whom he had had so many clashes, to
view the new epoch-making film in the studio's tiny projection
room. Nothing so ambitious, so pretentious, had been made in
America; it would establish Biograph as the leading picture
studio in the world, and it would send Griffith's name soaring.
The tall, cold, stone-faced Kennedy arrived.
"I think you're going to like it, Mr. Kennedy," said Griffith
effusively. "It's something new in pictures and ought to do a
great deal for us."
"I hope so, the way things are going. How long is it?"
" Tour reels?' " repeated the shocked man. "We can't sell a
four-reel picture. The exhibitors have no arrangements for
handling a film of that length."
"Can't we put it out as a 'special attraction'?"
"No. The booking and distributing systems are arranged in
such a way that this can't be done. You have wasted our
"But, Mr. Kennedy, it's something new!"
"We don't want something new, as you call it. We want
pictures that can be handled and distributed without upsetting
our entire system."
There was a silence.
"I've looked up the cost sheet," continued Mr. Kennedy,
He Makes a Four-Reel cr 93
"and I find the picture has cost us $36,000. That makes it the
most expensive picture ever produced."
"I think it will pay off. Mr. Kennedy."
There was another painful silence, then Mr. Kennedv said:
"Why didn't you consult us? You wouldn't tell us; vou
worked in secret; we had confidence in you and now this . . ."
"I wanted to make an artistic picture. I couldn't very well
explain what I had in mind. I kept changing it as I went along,
getting new ideas and adding to it."
"Why didn't vou tell us vour ideas? I happen to know a
little about the film business."
"I know you do. Mr. Kennedy. But this dealt with art."
"It also dealt with money. It won't fit into our standard
weekly output, it won't fit into anything. We can't release it.
It'll have to go into the vault."
"Maybe, when vou see the picture, vou'll change vour
Thev went into the projection room.
The picture was run off.
"I haven't changed my mind in the least," said Mr. Kennedy
when the ordeal was over. "Dancing with that head— it would
"I think they would like it. Mr. Kennedy."
Mr. Kennedv left and Griffith was alone in defeat.
But he wasn't defeated, not quite. He had had an idea for
a story about the War Between the States, dealing especially
with the Reconstruction period. He began to think about it
He was now thirtv-nine.
HE MAKES THE BIRTH OF
Judith of Bethulia was held in the vaults
for a year, then released— not as a "special feature," but as a
unit in the Trust's routine weekly output. Handled this way—
as part of the service for which the exhibitors paid a fee—
the company could not ask a higher price for the film. As a re-
sult it was considered a financial failure and Griffith was looked
on as a director who could not be depended on. The public
did not want "multiple-reel pictures," the Trust said. In this
the Trust was a trifle in error; the public wanted them very
much, indeed. The Trust, however, stubbornly refused to
change its policy and soon was in trouble, and finally failed.
Meantime, the public was eating up "multiple-reel pictures,"
but the Trust was too dead to see the depressing spectacle.
Griffith left Biograph and joined Mutual, with a special con-
tract with Harry E. Aitken, its president, which allowed him
to make any kind of picture he wanted. Griffith rejoiced. He
was now, in effect, his own master. He would not be harried
by the box office. He arrived in Los Angeles February 14, 19 14,
on fire to make the kind of picture he wanted to make without
the business office having a hand on his shoulder. And with
him, just as eager as Griffith, was faithful Billy Bitzer.
Griffith had in process of production, cutting, printing, and
release three pictures which must be finished before he began
He Makes The Birth of a Nation 95
The One. He tore into them; they promised to be money-
While nominally supervising these productions for Mutual,
Griffith was secretly at work on his new and inspiring story.
He was hiring extras and costumes. A war was preparing in
Europe; the one he was getting ready to film was more real
to him than the one across the ocean.
He had always spoken contemptuously of picture making.
He would say to Billy Bitzer, "Well, let's get to work and
grind out another sausage." But he had no such reflection on
the new picture he was just starting; it would tell the truth
about the neglected South.
The story principle, which he had established at the very
beginning, was still in effect: the Griffith last-minute rescue.
He had added to this bare bones the matter of social impor-
tance. Poor Dolly, in The Adventures of Dolly, had been
rescued from her barrel at the last possible moment. Even in
Judith of Bethulia the Jews had been saved by Judith with her
platter. But he no longer wanted what he called "family situ-
ations"; he wanted a story that dealt with masses of people
under stress, even with the fate of nations. He had always had
this social consciousness; now he could make others aware of
He had seen a stage play entitled The Clansman by the
Reverend Thomas E. Dixon, of North Carolina. The play
was tawdry, but in it was an idea— the condition of the South
after the Union armies had retired in victory. The idea had
been stowed away in his mind; he reread the book. He read
also another book of the Reverend Mr. Dixon— The Leopard's
Spots— and decided to use part of this story in the general plot.
He would depict the aftermath of the war and would show
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what had happened to thousands of southerners who had lost
everything, like his father. This would be no pitiful four-
reeler; it would be the biggest, the most important picture ever
He told Harry Aitken what he wanted to do. Aitken said
that he knew the mind of the directors of his company and
that they would never agree to put up the sum needed—
$50,000. A blow, indeed. After some discussion Griffith sug-
gested they form their own company and produce the picture.
Aitken agreed to this and said he would be personally respon-
sible for the $50,000. It was a wonderful, breathtaking moment.
Griffith— who did not think in small terms— named the com-
pany the Epoch Film Corporation.
The time had come! He could produce, could be his own
master. He would do big things.
He had two other films to finish, but secretly he was working
on the story of the South. As usual, he had the outline in his
head; there would be no scenario. He would take the scenes
in the order that seemed best. His imagination leaped; his mind
soared; he had wings. He would depict the most dramatic
events that had taken place in the War Between the States. He
would show the Battle of Petersburg; he would show Sher-
man's march to the sea; the burning of Atlanta; the assassina-
tion of President Lincoln. He would show the Negroes being
led by "carpetbaggers" from the North, and he would show
how law and order were restored by the Night Riders.
He laid the evils of Reconstruction on two leaders of the
Republican party: Senator Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts,
and Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania. Sup-
porters of Stevens pointed out that he lived for years with a
Negro woman in Washington, D.C. But it must also be pointed
He Makes The Birth of a Nation 97
out that he did not marry her; the reason for this, it was said,
was because he was afraid he would lose social caste in Wash-
Who were to be his actors? Well, he would use the Griffith
Players, and so he selected Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Henry B.
Walthall, Robert Harron; Donald Crisp was to play General
Grant, Raoul Walsh was to play John Wilkes Booth, and
Erich von Stroheim was to have a small part. And there were
to be lesser players. (Mary Pickford had joined another com-
pany and was not available.)
The building of the sets and the laying out of the battle-
fields were begun; a whole city must be built— later to be
burned. Eighteen thousand soldiers had to be arranged for—
men to fight for the North and men to fight for the South.
And they must have not only uniforms, but also horses. An
unexpected difficulty arose. A war in Europe was imminent
and the quarreling nations were buying horses in this country.
He had to have horses, come what might, so he went into the
market and bid against England, France, Italy, and Russia.
And he must have shells that would explode, and these he bid
for; they were harmless, but otherwise the same as the armies
were to use. And vast quantities of cotton goods for the Ku
Klux Klan— these had to be secured against foreign bidding.
His plans mounted; his ambition soared.
"Billy," he said, "Fm going to take battle scenes at night."
" 'Battle scenes at night'?" repeated Billy Bitzer. "It cannot
be done. Mr. Greeffith. It is not known how."
"We'll learn. Remember, battle scenes at night. That's what
"Ve vill do it, Mr. Greeffith," said Billy.
Rehearsals started. He had always been demanding of his
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cast; now he was more so than ever. They complained, but he
pushed them on, sometimes even bullying them.
The actor-killing rehearsals continued day after day. He
carried everything in his head; not a scrap of paper to guide
him. The days he had spent working on his history of the
South were now yielding dividends. He knew the war as did
few people. But it was from the southern point of view. For
six weeks the rehearsals continued; no scene was too small to
be rushed over; no scene so big that it could not be improved.
He rehearsed the shooting of President Lincoln twenty-two
Finally the great day came. The camera turned for the first
time— and the day was July 4, 19 14.
A strip of land had been rented from private owners and
closed off; here the battle scenes were rehearsed and then made;
there was no retake. And then the ride of the Clansmen was
made. Billy Bitzer staked his camera down so as to get the
effect of the horses passing over him; and this they did, indeed,
as he lay on the ground in the dust raised by their thundering
feet. In fact, one of the horses crashed into the camera and
broke it. Hastily the camera was patched up and the fierce,
demoniac ride continued.
It became a struggle to pay the cast, especially the extras—
and there were 16,000 of them. Also there was the matter of
supplying them lunch on the set. He himself had to go to the
store that was making up the boxes and ask the store to trust
him. It agreed to.
No sooner was one problem solved than another came to
take its place. But he kept the camera turning; the picture was
going into the box. He worked furiously; no writing in secret
He Makes The Birth of a Nation 99
Mr. Aitken came to him. "Griffith, I see on the office memo-
randum you want more money. Haven't you got enough?"
"No, Mr. Aitken. I'll have to have more."
"You've spent all the money set aside for the picture."
"Things have been against me, Mr. Aitken. The war has
made a big difference. I'll need $50,000 more."
Mr. Aitken looked at him, aghast. "We haven't got it and
we can't get it. Finish up the picture and we'll salvage what we
"The picture would be botched. I couldn't do that, Mr.
"Then you'll have to do it alone. There will be no more
Griffith was stunned. The picture was half completed— no
It was a black night, but he was not defeated.
Work was stopped. Griffith went to his friends and asked for
money— a bitter experience for such a proud and haughty man.
"I haf friendts undt I vill ask dem," said Billy Bitzer.
"I have friends, too," said John D. Barry, his secretary and
office manager. "I have a well-to-do one in Pasadena. I'll ask
A day or two later Barry came into Griffith's office, his face
beaming, his eyes shining. He held up a check. "Mr. Griffith,
I've got $700."
For a moment Griffith could not speak. "God is on our side,"
he said, touched.
There appeared on the set the Reverend Thomas Dixon, tall
and lean and sallow. Actors in make-up and in Civil War
costumes were waiting to be rehearsed; they stared at the
visitor. Who was he? Griffith went quickly to meet him. The
actors stared at this, too, for they knew that their director did
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not like to be interrupted in a scene. After the greetings were
over, the distinguished author came directly to the point.
"D. W., y'know-"
Griffith caught the tone. "Excuse me," he said hastily; "let's
walk over there where we can be alone. I think it will be
better," he added in a notable understatement.
"You know," continued Dixon when they withdrew, "you
agreed to pay me $2,500 for my book and play. I dislike to
speak of this, but I haven't got anything yet."
Griffith was embarrassed and ill at ease. "I'm kind of low on
money just now, Mr. Dixon. Could you wait awhile? I'll pay
you, you can depend on that."
"I feel I have the right to expect it now. You led me to be-
lieve that in the beginning," said the austere visitor.
"I know I did, but unexpected expenses have come up."
There was an embarrassed silence.
"Mr. Dixon, will you accept ten times that amount in stock
in our company?"
He didn't know about that, the Reverend Mr. Dixon said;
stock deals were always a treacherous business. But the earnest,
the persuasive Griffith got him to agree, and finally the Rev-
erend Mr. Dixon left.
The actors were watching the sallow man and they were
watching Griffith, but Griffith offered no explanation.
"Who was dot sour apple?" asked the privileged Billy
"An old friend," said Griffith and then, without being too
abrupt with Billy, took up his directing.
At last the picture was finished.
So well had he rehearsed— so well had he prepared— that not
one battle scene had to be taken over.
He Makes The Birth of a Nation 101
All of the picture, including the battle scenes and the ride
of the Clansmen, was shot with one camera. That camera has
disappeared; no one knows what became of it.
(Note: If that camera could be found and put on exhibit in
the D. W. Griffith section of the Museum of Modern Art, it
would be an outstanding addition. It would bring us close to
this great period in American picture making.)
The most famous "still" picture that has ever come out of
Hollywood was one involving Lillian Gish and an unknown
soldier— unknown, that is, until recently. The still showed
Lillian Gish coming out of the hospital in Atlanta; as she came
out, a Union soldier, his hands resting wearily on his rifle, sees
Lillian and looks at her with such yearning, in such an I-see-an-
angel way that it brought down the house. The man was an
extra and when the film was over he melted into the California
mist. Years later, in fact, recently, it was discovered this im-
mortal was a man named Walter Freeman. (Author's com-
ment: I wonder if he is living. I hope so, indeed.)
Then came the cutting. Griffith sat in the little cutting room
on a chair with metal legs, hunched over the cutting table,
endlessly running the film forward and backward to bring out
the contrasts he wished. He seemed always to know what he
wanted and he seemed never to tire.
Finally the picture was completed; it had cost $110,000—
a staggering sum.
From Mae Marsh, in a letter to the author:
You ask what salary we got in The Birth of a Nation. He was
driven for money, but there was not a week we were not paid.
I got $35 a week. In Intolerance I got $85. After the release of
Intolerance and the attention the picture attracted, I joined the
newly formed Goldwyn Pictures Corporation at $3,000 a week.
That was the way things went in early Hollywood.
102 Star Maker
Griffith was ready to show the picture to the business office.
The twelve reels were run off— it was the longest picture that
had ever been made. The businessmen regarded it coldly; it
would not fit into the program.
"Sell it as a special feature," said the weary man.
"Pictures are not sold that way."
"This picture is different."
"It has to be sold like any picture."
The businessmen showed him where he was wrong.
Whatever happened, Mutual owned half of the picture;
Griffith, his friends, and immediate backers, owned the rest.
The picture had been made in secret; only Griffith and the
cast knew what it was about. The picture was inflammatory,
people said; it was propaganda against the Negroes. Griffith
heard the rumors but could not accept them. His was a fair
and impartial retelling of the aftermath of the Civil War.
Talk mounted. Politicians, with their eyes on the Negro
vote, helped arouse racial excitement. Finally came the night
the picture was to open. As publicity horsemen were hired to
put on Ku Klux Klan regalia and ride through Central Park
(later known as Pershing Square) toward the theater, and
there, at Chine's Auditorium, in Los Angeles, the picture
opened, February 8, 19 15.
So great was the excitement that the police had to patrol
the streets. Inside, the picture was flashing across the screen
in such scenes as had never before been witnessed in the world.
Many of the Hollywood- trained people knew they had come
in contact with greatness.
After the show, Griffith met Billy Bitzer outside. "How did
you like it, Billy?"
"It is goot, like I always tell you it vas."
"How did you like the night shots?"
He Makes The Birth of a Nation 103
"They are goot, like I tell you they would be," said Billy.
Griffith rushed to New York with a print for the Reverend
Thomas Dixon and a group of exhibitors to see. It was unreeled
in a small company projection room. It aroused the hard-bitten
exhibitors into a burst of applause— a record-breaking event, if
there ever was one. The Reverend Thomas Dixon himself
sprang to his feet.
"It's wonderful!" he cried, his voice shaking with emotion.
"It's bigger than the title suggests. It should be called The
Birth of a Nation, for that is exactly what it is! "
"I like the title you suggest," said Griffith, and so did the
exhibitors; then and there a new title was born.
Immediately word came that President Wilson wanted to
see it. Griffith was particularly eager to know what the Presi-
dent would say, for he had based some of the scenes on Wood-
row Wilson's book, A History of the American People. A print
was taken by messenger to Washington and just one week to
a night from the time it opened in Los Angeles it was shown to
President Wilson and his family and to members of the Cabinet
and their families— the first time the President of the United
States had ever asked to "see" a picture. When the picture
started to unreel, the guests talked, as people will. One by one
they became silent, lost in the sweep of epic events. After a
time none spoke, so great was the effect of the story.
When the picture was over, President Wilson sat for some
moments, greatly moved. "It's like writing history with light-
ning," he said.
So much feeling did the film arouse that people in high
places said things that can hardly be understood today. Charles
W. Eliot, president of Harvard, said: "I want to say that the
film presents an extraordinary misrepresentation of the birth
2 0^ Star Maker
of this nation." It was a very telling observation; the only thing
the matter was that he had not seen the picture.
The first to seize upon its possibilities was the newly organ-
ized Ku Klux Klan, which had been resurrected from the Re-
construction days following the Civil War. In Austin, Texas,
the Clansmen put on their robes of white and scarlet, formed
in a body at Wooldridge Park, marched down Congress Ave-
nue, turned into Sixth Street, and filled to capacity the Han-
cock Opera House which the Klan had taken over for the
The original Klan had met in 1865 on top of Stone Moun-
tain, near Atlanta, Georgia, under the leadership of General
Nathan Bedford Forrest. The present Clansmen in Atlanta
organized into a body, some on horseback, some on foot— all
dressed in their official ghostlike regalia, and marched down
Peachtree. Fiery crosses, carried along the line of march,
burned ominously. The Clansmen poured into the theater;
those who couldn't get in patrolled the streets. When the pic-
ture was over, the men who had seen it were in such a frenzy
when they came out that they fired off their pistols.
It was announced that the picture was coming to Boston,
the birthplace of Abolition, the city from which William
Lloyd Garrison— the first Abolitionist— had thundered. Im-
mediately the city was in arms. Negro preachers and Negro
leaders and white teachers and lawyers denounced the film. It
should not open. But it did open in April 19 15 at Tremont
Temple. Four thousand Negroes, led by white supporters,
turned out to oppose it. They gathered on the steps of the
capitol building, on Beacon Hill, and demanded that the film be
suppressed. There were just as many people on the other
side, demanding that the film continue. There was a clash. The
police could not control the situation; the Boston Fire Depart-
He Makes The Birth of a Nation 105
ment was hastily summoned and came with its hose. The clash
promptly became worse. The call went out for medical aid.
Two ambulances were required to get the injured to the hos-
Governor Walsh threatened Griffith with arrest.
Griffith was bewildered by the storm of protest that swept
the country. He was derided on the streets; he got threatening
letters and telephone calls. He was attacked by newspapers. He
said that he loved Negroes; they said that if the picture repre-
sented his love, they did not want it. He had no knack for con-
troversy and got the worst of it. At first he had been proud of
the picture; now he did not want to be seen in public and
would go to no social function.
Griffith was back in the Hotel Astor, but now he did not
have to walk through the lobby to attract attention. He was
the man of the hour, the most talked-about man in the enter-
tainment field in America.
The telephone rang. "Mayor Mitchell wants to talk to you."
The mayor of New York!
Griffith could hardly believe his ears.
"I want to see you," said John Purroy Mitchell when he
came on the telephone. "A committee has asked me to go with
them to your hotel."
What, thought Griffith, could a committee want to talk to
him about? Was it some kind of award?
When the door opened, Griffith was surprised to have
Mayor Mitchell, one white man, and two Negroes walk in.
Introductions were made. Mayor Mitchell came immediately
to the point. "We are shocked by your picture. You have done
a great injustice to the colored people, and, in all fairness, you
should take the picture off."
106 Star Maker
Griffith was stunned. "What do you think is wrong?" he
finally managed to ask.
"You make," said one of the committee, "the Negroes out
as heinous, inhuman creatures. Every time a Negro appears in
the film, he is a villain."
"The villains are the carpetbaggers," said Griffith when
he got possession of himself. "They were white; they led the
colored people into the situations I depicted. I must tell you,
we have very carefully researched the story and everything
shown on the screen happened. You have no right to ask me,
on historical grounds, to close the picture, and I will not agree
to do so."
"The Negroes never acted that way," said one of the com-
mittee harshly. "You have them seizing white girls on the
streets and making off with them. That is not true."
"I am afraid it is true," said Griffith, dismayed by the bit-
terness displayed against him. "You don't realize the impact
that the War Between the States made on people. People-
Negroes and whites— were not in their right minds. That is
what it amounted to."
"I accuse you," said one of the committee, "of being anti-
"I'm not anti-anybody," said the shocked man. "I'm so
overwhelmed by your accusations that I can hardly speak.
But I will say this. I grew up with Negroes. I was nursed by
a Negro mammy."
The talk grew in heat. Griffith maintained he was inno-
cent; the mayor and the committee maintained he had brought
disgrace and humiliation on what one of the committee called
"ten million American citizens." Griffith said again that the
real culprits were the carpetbaggers; and that the southerners
were better friends to the Negroes than the unscrupulous men
He Makes The Birth of a Nation 107
from the North. Finally it was settled: Griffith agreed to take
out the hate-arousing scenes; and this was done. One hundred
and seventy scenes were taken out. One thousand three hun-
dred and seventy-four "shots" were left in.
The picture reopened.
Even with the deletions, the situation was so delicate that
Pinkerton detectives were placed in the audience to see that
there was no disturbance. And there they sat, performance
after performance, ready to pounce. But they were not called
on and did not have to pounce.
The picture as offered to the public was two hours and
forty-five minutes long.
Griffith had suddenly been catapulted into national atten-
tion. Some people were calling him a genius; others were de-
nouncing him bitterly. He himself was bewildered by the
violence of the feeling that had been aroused against him per-
sonally. He went around in a cloud, hardly knowing what
to do. The only thing he knew was that he was right and that
he had presented a fair treatment of conditions after the war.
He had to guard himself against fanatics who must see him
personally and tell him where he was wrong.
The telephone at the Astor rang. "Cora Hawkins is here
to see you," the operator said.
He was delighted. How well the two of them had got
along together. How well they understood each other.
When he heard the elevator he went out— and there was
broad, thick, heavy-waisted, square-faced Cora. With her was
a little boy.
"Hello, Cora!" he called heartily. "Come in. I'm glad to
see you. Is this little David?"
"How-de-do, Mr. David," said Cora soberly. "Yes, that's
my boy. I been tellin' him about you."
108 Star Maker
"Sit down, Cora. Well, he's a promising-looking boy. I
often think of those days on East Thirty-seventh Street, and
how you cheered me up when I was low."
"I think of them, too," said Cora in the same sober, re-
They talked, but not in the easy way of old. "A person
doesn't know how time races by until he sees an old friend
who reminds him of the past," said Griffith. "Well, how're
things with you, Cora? I hope everything is going well."
Cora moved uneasily. Something was on her mind.
"Mr. David, I always think you my friend. I always think
"Why, I am, Cora. I am indeed. Are you in some kind of
"Yes, suh. I is."
"Well, now maybe we can take care of that! What is it,
Cora? Are they after you?"
"It ain't that kind of trouble, Mr. David. It's deeper'n that.
It's here." She indicated her generous bosom. "Mr. David, I
go to see the picture you have in de theater, almost the first
one in. I go in. An' den the picture commence." She paused,
so great was her emotion. "It hurt me, Mr. David, to see what
you do to my people. I could hardly stan' it. I keep savin', 'Dis
is not my Mr. David. He same name, but he different man.'
But I have seen your photo in de paper an' I know it is my
Mr. David that I wuk for on East Thirty-seventh Street and
we have so many nice talks."
He was genuinely touched. "Why, that's history, Cora. I
didn't make it up. My father told me much and I got much
out of books."
"It may be history but it not my people. No colored folks
ever do like the picture say. Dat place where Mae Marsh run
He Makes The Birth of a Nation 109
through the forest with Gus after her, an' he ketch up— and
she jump off the cliff— that never happen, Mr. David. My
people never do dat."
"He was a mulatto, Cora. I am afraid such scenes did take
"Finally de picture is over an' I come out, feelin' sick, an'
I go in so happy."
"I am sorry, Cora. I am, indeed. I wanted to show how the
colored people were misled by white scalawags."
"I don't know what you meant to do— I only know what I
see." She paused, choked with emotion. "Mr. David, you see
him." She pointed to the little boy. "His name no longer
David. It's Thomas."
Griffith was deeply hurt. He again tried to explain his
point of view, but Cora saw only hers, and a pained silence
rose between them.
Finally she stood up. "Good-by, Mr. David. Come on,
Taking the child by the hand, she led him out.
He sat for some moments, a hurt and disturbed man. The
telephone rang. Many things to do, many people who wanted
to see the man who made the most controversial picture
in the history of the world.
Now, for the first time, money was pouring in to him.
What would he do with it? What, with money at his com-
mand, would the restless, driving man do next?
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THE COMPLETE CAST OF
THE BIRTH OF A NATION
Benjamin Cameron Henry B. Walthall
His sister Florence Mae Marsh
His sister Margaret Miriam Cooper
Mrs. Cameron Josephine Crowell
Dr. Cameron Spottiswood Aitken
Austin Stoneman Ralph Lewis
His daughter Elsie Lillian Gish
His son Phil Elmer Clifton
His second son Robert Harron
Silas Lynch George A. Siegmann
Gus Walter Long
Lydia Brown Mary Alden
Abraham Lincoln Joseph Hennaberry
Charles Sumner Sam de Grasse
Gen. Lee Howard Gay
Gen. Grant Donald Crisp
Jake Wm. de Vaull
Cyndy Jennie Lee
HE GOES HOME TO VISIT
The business office, seeing its possibilities,
exploited the picture as no other picture had ever been ex-
ploited in history. Twelve companies were sent out, each
with a print; they moved from town to town, whooping up
interest and showing the picture at advanced prices. One of
their ways to stir up excitement was to engage men, fit them
with robes of the Ku Klux Klan, and have them ride horseback
through the streets, ending up at the theater. The Griffith
organization called these show-and-exploitation groups "road
companies"— and thus, in the show world, the name was born.
Printed, circuslike posters were slapped on billboards and
thereby marked for the first time in history the use of
"twenty-four-sheets" to advertise a motion picture. In many
parts of the United States there were no motion-picture
theaters. This matter was taken care of by what was called
"Birth of a Nation Specials." Trains were hired, people were
picked up at lonely crossroads, taken to the city, and shown
the picture. Usually the people stayed overnight and had a
wonderful time. Neighborhoods got together and went by
train to the nearest city that had a picture theater and they,
also, had a wonderful time. In fact, everybody had a good
time, except the harassed Negroes. Schools marched in groups
to see the picture, because the picture taught "Americanism."
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Every possible angle to exploit the picture was used— all except
one. And this was the "personal appearance." No star had yet
gone forth to shout for a movie.
The picture brought millions to the box office who never
before had gone to a picture house. Until now they had
thought of motion pictures in terms of the nickelodeon and
the cheap side-street halls where people were requested not to
spit on the floor. They came flocking to motion-picture houses,
ready to hand over two dollars. It was something new and
novel to the American public. The term "the flickers" was
completely gone now.
The effect of the players on the public was startling. Until
now people had paid little or no attention to the names of the
actors— except Little Mary and the Biograph Girl; now the
public wanted to know all about the people taking these parts.
Nothing like it before had ever been known. Requests for
pictures of the players and their autographs poured in; how
long it seemed since Little Mary had got twenty-two letters
in the ancient days at Biograph.
The public wanted to know about "the Little Colonel"—
Henry B. Walthall— and the men of America tried to adopt
his fine patrician air; their success was not notable. They imi-
tated his haircut and they wanted his style of collar and neck-
tie. Rough-and-ready men who had once let a lady look after
herself as best she could now hopped up and led her across the
street as if rescuing her from a burning building. When a man
got her across and she thanked him, he took off his hat and laid
it reverently across his breast. It was a stirring and ennobling
The effect on the women also was startling. Once plump-
ness had been queen, but the heroine of The Birth of a Nation
was slender and petite, and now the women of America wanted
He Goes Home to Visit His Mother 113
to be slender and petite. Their success was not outstanding.
Lillian Gish was demure and blushed at a rude word. The
women of America tried this, too, thereby startling their men
no end. In the picture the heroine was always shaking down
her golden, sunlit hair. Our women shook theirs down, too,
but not so successfully as the heroine did. Also the heroine was
sweet and demure, but when the right man came along she was
all fire. The women of America seemed to succeed better here.
Money began to pour in to Epoch Films Corporation. The
first thing that Griffith demanded of the business office was to
pay off the individuals who had believed in him and had put
up their money. The Reverend Thomas Dixon rejoiced in the
spotlight that suddenly fell on him. He said that he had be-
lieved in the picture from the very first.
Griffith, who had lived in obscurity, was now the most-
talked-of man in America outside of political figures. He was
criticized and denounced. Now and then a voice piped up
and said he had given the world a new art. Such a person,
however, was soon put in his place. His attackers said he was
killing "the living theater," as they tenderly called it. The
Shuberts announced they would hire no one who had had a
prominent part in any movie. This didn't quite demoralize the
new and growing group called "movie actors." One who came
through with calm nerves was Mary Pickford. An item that
kept her from trembling too much at the Shubert thunderings
was that she was now making $2,000 a week.
D. W. Griffith was thrilled with the overwhelming success
of the picture, but secretly looked down on it. It was cheap
entertainment for the unthinking masses. He had started out to
do something and he had made a success of it. But the thing
that he had made a success of was tawdry. The money was
coming in; as soon as he had enough of it, he would stop and
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do something worth-while. There was that manuscript which
was to establish him as the American Ibsen— The Treadmill.
Its great theme would rock the thinking world; the theme that
man was an encumbrance on the earth and that he would
wreck the planet and perish with it.
When interviewers came to see him, he told as little as pos-
sible about himself; when he spoke of his early days he said he
was from Louisville, Kentucky, where he had worked on a
paper. Sometimes he told the interviewers he had been an actor,
but spoke of this only briefly. He became sensitive about his
age and gave out that he was born in 1880.
Word came that his mother was not well. She had never
liked Louisville and wanted to go back to the old farm, but
that had been gone many years. But she could return to early
surroundings and her old friends, so he bought a house for her
in LaGrange, six miles from the old homestead and twenty
miles from Louisville.
As soon as he got to Louisville, he was the center of interest.
He had been something of a mystery. After he'd left, little
had been known about him, except that he was actm' in
travelin' shows. Then he'd got "mixed up" in the movies— no
one knew in exactly what way. But now he was back. He was
famous. He was rich.
He walked along the streets where he had pegged so many
times. He went to the house on West Chestnut Street where
the family had lived when they had come from the farm. How
small it seemed. He went to 930 Fifth Street. Why! This was
where he was living when he had been a member of the Mef-
fert Stock Company and had been told that to be a great play-
wright one must have been an actor. He went to the public
library where he had read Browning and Walt Whitman and
He Goes Home to Visit His Mother 115
the great storytellers; and he went to the Filson Club with its
wonderful library where he had read so long ago.
But really it wasn't so long ago. He had a drive that aston-
ished younger men. His real career was ready to begin. He was
making money; he would soon stop making motion pictures.
He had an idea for one more picture. That would be the end.
He was touched when he went in to see his mother. She had
always been an aristocrat, and, even now, gave off that feeling.
She had been Mary Oglesby before she had married his father;
yes, a member of the famous and important Oglesby family of
Georgia. Here she was now, trembling with excitement to see
"her boy." She had lived through Reconstruction; she had told
him about it many times. She was proof of what he had shown
in the picture.
After the first flurry of greetings the talk went to family
history, and she spoke of his grandfather, Daniel Wetherby
Griffith, who had been in the War of 1 8 1 2 ; and of his father,
who had been in the War with Mexico and in the War Be-
tween the States.
Her mind was on the past. She asked him if he remembered
how he had arrived in Louisville when they had left the farm
at Crestwood. He had to study a moment. He had come on a
wagon piled high with furniture, bedding, and household
effects, he said.
"That's right, David," she said, pleased. "Albert came on
the second load." She mused a moment. "I think it was the
How was his health? Was he working too hard?
She paused. "How is Linda?"
"I hear from her now and then— when she wants money."
"Will there have to be a divorce?"
"I don't know. I can't tell yet."
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"It's too bad," said his mother sadly. "Do you drink, David?"
"I'm glad of that, David. Our men were never drinkers. I
often think how your father used to read Shakespeare aloud."
She paused; a smile lit up her worn face. "I didn't ever let him
know, but sometimes I'd go to sleep."
Griffith laughed. "I expect I did, too."
She peered at him with her dim eyes, now and then blinking.
"People send me clippings. I get Mary Bruce to read them to
me. They mention the big success your film is. I'm glad of it,
David. I'm glad of anything that advances you."
"The picture is doing unbelievably well, Ma. If I have luck
I'll make a million dollars this year! "
"I'm pleased things are turning out well. So many times in
life they don't." After a moment she seemed to realize how
much money that was. "Will you give some to the church?"
"I hadn't thought of that."
"I've always managed to give a little to our foreign mis-
sionary work. We used to send the Chinese our old clothes,
packed in barrels with camphor balls. I used to smile when I
thought how the Chinese, when they opened the barrels, must
have got a whiff that was pretty strong!" She again paused;
something deep and personal was in her mind. "Naturally I'm
glad you have made such a big success of your theater work,
but sometimes I wish you had chosen to be a Methodist
"I think I do some good the way it is, Ma. I try to show what
is right with the world and what is wrong, at least as I see it."
"I realize you'd want to, David. But things told from a
pulpit by a God-fearing man carry a meaning that things in a
theater don't have."
"I'm writing a play. I'm very hopeful of it."
He Goes Home to Visit His Mother 117
"You always ran to theater things, like when you joined the
Meffert Stock Company an' acted. I can say it now, but that
was a blow. I didn't mind it too much when they took your
name off the church books."
They talked of other things, then came back to themselves.
"I do appreciate you buying this house for me, David. It
isn't the old family home at Crestwood, but it's cheery and
comfortable. I'm willing to stay here until God calls me."
"That'll be a long time yet, Ma." He choked.
She made little clicking sounds, for her teeth did not fit
right. "I like to hear you say it, David. God blessed me with
good children. Albert writes every week. Alary Bruce brings
the mail and reads it to me." There was another pause. "When
I go I want to be taken to Mount Tabor and put beside your
father and Mattie. I asked Mary Bruce to drive me past it the
other day. It looks so peaceful."
At last, deeply stirred, he left. It w r as the last time he saw her
alive. She died December 11, 1915, aged eighty-six. He came
back for the funeral and stood beside the grave in the cemetery
that had looked so peaceful to his mother.
THE STORY BEHIND THE MAKING
The success of The Birth of a Nation gave
him an opportunity to do something he'd never before had a
chance to do. The stories he had been writing had been coming
back from the magazines. Well, he would be his own editor
and he would accept his own stories. He took the rejected
stories, changed them, and made them into films! During the
year 191 6— with the myriad things he had to do— he made seven
films from stories of his own. He put other names on them,
but they were all his stories. The list:
1. The Wood Nymph written and produced by Griffith;
scenario by Granville Warrick. Released January 15. Triangle
2. Daphne and the Pirates. Scenario by Granville Warrick.
3. Hoodoo Anne. By Granville Warrick.
4. An Innocent Magdalene. The original story by Granville
5. The Wild Girl of the Sierras. Original story by D. W.
6. The Mystery of the Leaping Fish. Story by our faithful
7. Diane of the Follies. By Granville Warrick.
The Story Behind the Making of Intolerance 119
Even while he was making The Birth of a Nation, he was
also working on a picture to follow it, so driven, so restless, so
energetic was this amazing man. It was called The Mother and
the Law. The crux of it was a mother's struggles to get posses-
sion of her child who had been taken away from her by a
cruel man who owned a mill in the town where the scene of the
story was laid. In addition, there was a secondary plot that
concerned the woman's young husband who was accused of a
crime he had not committed. The poor woman had plenty of
troubles, indeed. Just as everybody and everything seemed
doomed there was to be a Griffith last-minute run to the rescue,
and all was to end with the sun shining and everybody happy.
A small story, compared to the mighty The Birth of a Nation.
He had assembled a cast and, next morning, rehearsals were
to begin and would continue for at least six weeks— backbreak-
ing, temper-shattering rehearsals in which he sometimes coaxed
his players in friendly tones, sometimes lashed them with words
that were hard to forgive. But, some way or other, the players
did forgive him. They all wanted to work for The Master.
In the cast were Mae Marsh, Robert Harron, Miriam
Cooper, Monte Blue, Vera Lewis, Ralph Lewis, Douglas Fair-
banks, Walter Long, Tod Browning.
Personal Memory: In a letter to the author from Mae
The Mother and the Law was the forerunner of Intolerance; it
became the modern story of that great epoch. One scene called
for Robert Harron to be executed, although he was innocent. We
did not put the feeling into the scene that Mr. D. W. thought we
should, so he took us to San Quentin to see how a condemned man
would act before he gave up his life. Motion pictures were made
of the prison walls, the yard, the gates, and different places. While
we were waiting inside the prison yard, Robert Harron lit a
cigarette and started to smoke; just then a prison gate, leading to
120 Star Maker
one section of the yard, opened and half-a-dozen real prisoners
started to march by. One of the prisoners passed near Robert
Harron. Lowering his voice, the prisoner said, "Buddy, if you drop
that cigarette no one will hold it against you."
Robert Harron dropped the cigarette and, later, the prisoner
came back and retrieved it.
Miss Margery Wilson played the part of "Brown Eyes,"
who was the daughter of a Huguenot, in Intolerance. "I was,"
she says, "cruelly murdered." She later became famous as the
originator of "the charm school." From her memory book:
One evening at a party at Mae Marsh's house, we placed Mr.
D. W. in an easy chair. We would give him a line of poetry, or
even a single phrase. In nearly every case he would not only iden-
tify the poem but repeat the poem as a whole. His memory was
Once he gave a dinner party. In the center of the table, as a
piece de resistance, was a suckling pig on a platter with an apple
in its mouth. D. W. was carving and at the same time dissertating
on Plato. The apple, jarred by the carving, fell out of the pig's
mouth. D. W. picked up the apple, inserted it where it should be,
and calmly continued to expound Plato. He had been so absorbed
in what he was saying that he had not realized that he had restored
the apple to its place.
When I was borrowed by the Thomas H. Ince studio to play
opposite William S. Hart, Mr. D. W. sent me in his own limousine.
As I was getting into his car, he said, "It would never do for a
Griffith leading lady to arrive at another studio on foot."
Rehearsals were always a trying time, for in them the mood
of the play must be established. That night Griffith sat alone in
his room in the Hotel Alexandria, in Los Angeles, doing what
he did every night after the day's end— reading. There came
to him with a fresh impact the plight of the little mother in her
fight against intolerance and social customs. "Why, it must
have been that way since man came upon the earth!" he
The Story Behind the Making of Intolerance 121
thought. The idea stirred him; it was true, it was universal, it
There came back to him in a mighty rush of feeling the
stories Mattie had read to him as a child. He would trace social
injustice through the ages. He would use the little mother in
his new story as only part of a mighty story, a story of four
periods of time! He would go back to Babylon. He would go
to the days of Christ which had meant so much to his own
mother. He would go to Paris and tell of the massacre of the
Huguenots on Saint Bartholomew's Eve, which Mattie had
read to him and which had stirred him so profoundly. And
then he would tell the story of the little mother and her fight
against injustice. He would, he thought in this moment of ex-
altation, take these four stories, twenty-four hundred years
apart, and weave them together in a film that would stir the
world. The idea was breath-taking.
But how to weave them together? He sat for some time,
thinking, but getting nowhere. Then he dropped it, as he so
often did, and let his subconscious deal with it. By chance he
picked up his copy of Leaves of Grass and began to thumb
through it, flipping the pages, hardly thinking at all what he
was doing. Two lines leaped out:
. . . endlessly rocks the cradle,
Uniter of Here and Hereafter.
He would have the "little mother" rocking the cradle of life
and in the cradle would be the children of destiny.
The cradle would rock between the four stories; it would
rock endlessly, just as time goes on without end. People would
understand that the cradle was symbolic and that the matter of
birth and life held the people of all ages together. He felt ex-
122 Star Maker
alted as the sweep and magnitude of the idea laid hold of him,
and he began to write excitedly.
In the story would be beauty and pathos and human under-
standing. He would show Belshazzar, King of Babylon, getting
ready to have a feast in the great Hall of Belshazzar, little sus-
pecting that Cyrus, the wicked king of the Persians, was pre-
paring to overthrow him. The feast would be interrupted by
the sound of war trumpets and the creaking of the wheels of
the mighty war machines. In the second story he would show
Julius Caesar and Jesus Christ— war and love— those two mighty
drives in human beings. In the third story he would show the
King of France with the beautiful ladies of his court. He would
make a picture such as had never been made in the history of
He wrote all night.
He could hardly wait to get to the studio to tell Billy Bitzer
about it. Billy was there, for he was always the first to arrive:
short, stocky, his cap turned backward as usual.
"Billy, I've got something I want to tell you! Y'know, back
at Biograph, I once told you we would come to Hollywood
and make great pictures and we would become rich?"
"Yah. I remember."
"Well, we're going to make a picture bigger than the Birth.
It's going to have thirteen reels."
Billy looked up from his tinkering. "T'irteen? Is it you are
"We're going to have four stories in one. They run along,
each one separate, like little rivers; then they all flow into a
mighty river and become one."
"What if dey don't flow?"
"But they will! Part of it is laid in Babylon, twenty-four
The Story Behind the Making of Intolerance 123
hundred years ago. We're going to rebuild the walls of Baby-
lon and they'll be three hundred feet high."
"T'ree hundredt feet high! Who vants high vails? I dun't."
"I do! The world does. And the walls will be so wide on
top that a golden chariot with four horses can be driven on it."
It was too much for mystified Billy. "Who wants to drive
four horses on a wall t'ree hundredt feet tall? Yah, drive 'em on
the ground, but neffer on a vail t'ree hundredt feet."
"And we will show the King of France in his royal court
with beautiful girls."
"Ah! Now ve get some place."
"And we will have 16,000 extras."
"Andt t'e money, ve vill have it zo?"
"We have the Birth money. That's coming in all the time."
"Andt t'e golt chariot . . . ve have money for a golt chariot,
"I tell you not to worry about the money. I'll take care of
that. You'll do the best photography you ever did in your life,
won't you, Billy?"
"Yah. It is zo."
Griffith was delighted. He could count on Billy, the greatest
motion-picture photographer in the world.
When the cast arrived, he called them together, eager to im-
part the exciting news. "I've got something to tell you about
our story. I've changed it. Our story now is part of a much
bigger story, one that has four stories running parallel until
they join and end in a smashing climax."
It was all vague to the cast, but The Master could do no
"I've changed the title. I'm going to call it Intolerance, for
that is the theme of the story. I had some of that in the way
12 4 Star Maker
they treated me for The Birth of a Nation. I think you'll all be
proud to be in it."
And this indeed was true.
The incredible man started with all his amazing energy to
make the greatest picture the world had ever seen, a picture
that was to dwarf The Birth of a Nation, one to be much more
important, for it was to deal with all humanity, over all time,
and not just with the civil troubles of one nation.
And it all did happen at 4500 Sunset Boulevard, in Los
Angeles. The Court of France sprang up and the walls of
Babylon sprang up— three hundred feet high and wide enough
for Billy Bitzer's "golt chariot." Jerusalem appeared, and so
did Julius Caesar. It was all new, it was all unbelievable. But
there it was and there were the pop-eyed tourists.
Among the visitors was DeWolf Hopper, the famous actor.
Griffith invited him up on the director's lofty platform and
there the two, side by side, surveyed the make-believe world
"That," said Griffith proudly, "is Jerusalem."
DeWolf Hopper studied the scene, then pointed to a white-
robed figure driving a Ford car. "Who is that?"
"That is Jesus Christ entering Jerusalem," said Griffith.
"I think I'll get down now," said DeWolf.
An army of carpenters started work on Belshazzar's banquet
hall. Out and out it spread and up and up it went.
At last the whole impossible thing was ready. Cameras were
ready to roll, tourists came thicker than ever to see the actors
and extras at lunch— peasants carrying lambs on their shoulders,
soothsayers, gold-beaters— a vast and colorful crew. There they
were— 12,000 of them, and among them were Persians, Egyp-
tians, Cyrus' mean and crafty hordes, and a hundred luscious
dancing girls. It made the Iowa people gulp.
The Story Behind the Making of Intolerance 125
But extras were not too expensive. They got two dollars
a day, plus a sixty-cent lunch.
The cast for the Babylonian story had to be selected; among
those he chose were Constance Talmadge, Elmer Clifton, Elmo
Lincoln, Mildred Harris, Pauline Stark, Alma Rubens, George
Fawcett, and Tully Marshall. One person— not a member of
the cast— was a young man named W. S. Van Dyke. He was
merely Griffith's helper.
Notable in the cast was a girl named Carol Dempster from
Duluth, Minnesota. Her father was a boat captain on the Great
Lakes. She had gone to a convent, but now that schooling was
over. She made her debut as a dancer in Duluth and had been
good enough to join the Ruth St. Denis dancers. She had come
to Hollywood and was chosen by Griffith for a dancing part.
Much was to come of this decision.
One scene was between The Girl and Belshazzar. At the
great feast the girl wrote a love note to Belshazzar. She put the
precious missive in a little cart drawn by snow-white pigeons
and they took the pulsing letter to Belshazzar, who was three
feet away. It taught people a new use for pigeons.
For the story of Christ, he chose, among others, Bessie Love,
Lillian Langdon, Olga Grey, Carmel Myers, and Erich von
Stroheim to be the wicked Pharisee.
And now the most important player of all— the mother to
rock the cradle. He wrote a fancy subtitle to describe Lillian
A Golden Thread Binds the Four Stories—
A Fairy Girl, with Sunlit Hair—
Her Hand on the Cradle of Humanity—
The picture started. The vast armies swept over the plains
of Mesopotamia; gold chariots raced along the walls; Bel-
126 Star Maker
shazzar had his feast and died for it; the dancing girls shook
their charms. Lillian Gish, with her sunlit hair, rocked eter-
The cameras ground on day after day. Billy became alarmed.
"Mr. Greeffith, how long it would be?"
"Three hundred reels."
"Is it you yoke?"
"We'll expose that much film, then cut it down."
"Yah. It is goot," said the faithful Billy.
An atmosphere of mystery arose. No one, except the cast,
knew what the story was about, and they were not clear, ex-
cept that people ought to love each other. This they under-
stood, as they fought bitterly to be near the camera.
At last the picture was finished; it had taken fourteen
months. The walls and the banquet hall with its elephants still
stood. Tourists still came and gaped. The mystery of what it
was all about became more profound.
Finally the cameras stopped; it would take seventy hours
to run the film. The job of cutting and assembling began. Day
after day Griffith sat in the smelly little cutting room, running
the negative back and forth, holding it up to his eye, studying
it with a magnifying lens, rerunning it. At last it was finished
Now came the decisive moment. His financial backers were
to see the picture that was to be bigger and better than The
Birth of a Nation.
They came excitedly and excitedly shook hands with the
great director. Over all hung the air of a triumphal opening
night. The picture began. The story jumped back and forth
over the ages. The cradle rocked on. The money men could
not understand it. Was the girl going to have a baby? Was
there a surprise in the cradle?
The Story Behind the Making of Intolerance 127
The picture finished in ominous silence.
The puzzled money men looked at one another.
"Is this the final version?" one asked.
"Do you think this is as good as The Birth of a Nation?"
"It's a greater work of art."
"The public wants a good picture, not a work of art," said
one of the men profoundly.
"I don't understand it," said another.
"It's symbolical," explained Griffith. "It touches all human-
"It didn't touch me," said the man cruelly.
A sharp, bitter personal argument arose. Why hadn't he told
them about the picture as he'd gone along? Why had he
worked in such secrecy? Why did he carry it all in his head?
Why did he build such expensive walls? Why did he have so
His proud, haughty nature was touched. He knew how to
make a picture. His judgment shouldn't be questioned. But
they questioned it sharply. He'd spent their money and all he
had to show for it was thirteen reels of jumbled film.
"You might just as well have reached your hand into our
pockets and stolen the money."
"You men haven't faith in this picture, but I have. I will
buy it. You can have your money back."
"It'll add up to a million dollars."
"I'll take the picture off your hands at a million dollars."
The men were stunned. Was he just talking? They would
find out. "If we have papers drawn up, will you sign them?"
"Gladly," said the haughty man.
He told Billy Bitzer what had happened and what the men
128 Star Maker
"The men are fools, like always," said the loyal Billy. "It
is a goot picture. The vails of Babylon are vonderful, like I
said they would be. The shot of t'e gold chariot mit t'e four
horses— neffer has dere been one like it against ze sky."
"I appreciate what you say, Billy."
"It vill make mooch money."
"I hope so," said Griffith fervently.
He was silent, for he was not a man to speak easily of any-
thing deep in him. "I'm low in the mouth about the picture.
The men not liking it . . . Billy, I've got something to tell you.
I bought the picture for a million dollars."
Billy was stunned. "Is it you say a million dollars?"
"Yes. Out of my own pocket."
"Goot. It ees lots of money, but you get lots of picture.
Y'know, you once say we come to Hollywood, I andt you, and
ve make great pictures togedder. Ve have made it, Mr. Greef-
"I think we have," said Griffith, his spirits rising. "We'll
make other great pictures together, won't we, Billy?"
"It is zo," said Billy.
Griffith himself left with a print for New York to get a
theater. He seemed hardly to have arrived before the telephone
rang. "I guess you know who this is!" said a voice. "May I
Linda was as good-looking as ever, and did not seem much
older. "I saw in the papers you were in town and I knew you
would be at the Astor."
He felt ill at ease as he shook hands. Was this all the dem-
onstration, after he had known her so well? Why! It was six
years ago they had parted— that day she had announced so
proudly that she was going to be leading lady for Kinemacolor.
The Story Behind the Making of Intolerance 129
"I'm glad to see you're not half undressed and swinging those
dreadful Indian clubs. Do you still do that?"
"When I have time. My health is good and I attribute some
of it to exercise."
After the first greetings he felt nervous, and so did she,
but she was much more clever in hiding her feelings.
"I see your new picture has been released. I understand it is
"Yes. One more than the Birth."
"You've come a long way since The Adventures of Dolly."
"The whole industry has advanced since then. I've just
moved along with it."
"You've moved along at the head of it! In a way, David,
you are a genius."
"Thanks, Linda. It's nice of you to say so. I need a little
encouragement just now."
"Do you think your new one is going to succeed?"
"I hope so."
"I do, too," she said with an effort at warmth and sympathy.
"Was it wise to try to carry four stories at the same time?"
"I thought so when I was working on it."
There was a silence; he sat sprawled out in his chair, the way
he so often did his thinking, tapping the ends of his fingers
She spoke. "I think you ought— well, to say it bluntly— to
send me more money. You've had a big success in The Birth
of a Nation and you seem to think the new one will catch on."
"I've had to take over Intolerance at a million dollars."
"Oh! I think, David, I have as much right to some of that
money as those men in Hollywood."
"It's more complicated than that, Linda. Many factors are
130 Star Maker
"You always want to complicate matters. You did that in
the early days. Fve talked to my lawyer and I want fifteen per
cent of your income."
"I want to be generous with you, Linda, but in this tricky
business I may not always have a good income."
"It'll probably get better. You're a genius."
When she left, he had promised to sign the papers.
He was able to engage the Liberty Theatre— where he had
had such success with The Birth of a Nation— and opened the
picture on the night of September 6, 19 16.
In Griffith was a strange combination of the maudlin and
the bloody; it came out in the silly names he gave his char-
acters, for in this story are to be found Brown Eyes, the Dear
One, the Mountain Girl, a Friendless One, Princess Beloved.
In contrast to this sentimentality was the scene where Bel-
shazzar's soldiers cut off the head of his enemy. Audiences-
lost in the sweetness of the Princess Beloved— shuddered.
The picture was a failure.
He was desperate. He wired his brother Albert L. Griffith
to come and take over the management and exploitation of the
film. The brother came; he had been in the soap business, but,
it was soon found, had a kind of genius for picture work. But
the tide was running against the two men.
The picture opened in other cities across the country; it
was received with indifference. The picture preached peace;
America was drifting into war.
Clune's Auditorium, which had resounded to The Birth of
a Nation, was cold and unresponsive.
Some cities banned the picture.
Hollywood began to call it "The D. W. Griffith Follies."
He decided to take a print himself to London. England
would respond to it. He arrived; the exchange man was de-
The Story Behind the Making of Intolerance 131
lighted to see the great director. Yes, he would arrange to have
the picture booked at once.
It opened at the Drury Lane Theatre on the night of April
6, 191 7. When Griffith came out, newsboys were standing in
front of the theater with their printed banner sheets which
said, ''United States Declares War on Germany."
HE GOES TO FRANCE TO MAKE A
PROPAGANDA PICTURE FOR
England was so deep in the war that it
could pay little attention to the picture; on top of this,
England, also, could not follow the complicated and involved
plot. The critics were kind and said that the picture must live
by its picturesque details.
Brother Albert was rushed to Australia where the picture
was better received than it had been in the United States or in
These were low days for Griffith. His money was tied up in
a sick picture. Then, after the way things sometimes happen,
a telephone call came in— the Prime Minister wanted to see him!
In no time at all he was at 10 Downing Street.
He was delighted to appear before David Lloyd George, but
was not awed and ill at ease, for no one ever had greater self-
confidence than D. W. Griffith— in spite of Intolerance. After
all, he'd made The Birth of a Nation and was the world's
greatest film director.
"I've had one of my staff look you up, Mr. Griffith," said
Lloyd George. "May I ask if you're related to Colonel Jacob
Wark Griffith of the Confederacy in the American War Be-
tween the States?"
"He was my father," said the surprised man.
He Goes to France 133
"I am indeed pleased to meet you. My military aide tells me
your father achieved something that has taken a secure place
in military history. And that is, he led a cavalry charge from
the vantage point of a horse and buggy. Is that true?"
"It is," said Griffith, expanding. "One time he captured
fifteen hundred Yankee mules. We're proud of that, too."
The two men, feeling at ease with each other, laughed over
"My father," said Griffith more soberly, "was wounded Rvt
times and finally died, in later years, chiefly from the effects of
"You know quite a bit about war, don't you?"
"I grew up, as a boy, surrounded by war talk, and I have
made three pictures with war backgrounds."
"One was Intolerance. What were the others?"
"Judith of Bethulia and The Birth of a Nation"
"Mr. Griffith, would you be willing to help in the war
"I would, indeed."
"I would like to have you make a war picture. Frankly, it
would be propaganda. I would like to have you show the
younger people the need for a united effort against our
enemies. I will turn over to you our complete resources and
I will especially delegate Lord Beaverbrook to help you, and
you may know that you have the support of the British
Cabinet. If all this is satisfactory, will you want to make a tour
of the battlefields?"
"I would like very much to make the tour."
He went from one ruined village to another, talked through
an interpreter to the people and asked how they felt when they
were being bombed and how it felt when they had to flee
from their homes.
134 Star Maker
What kind of picture should he make? Would it be a spec-
tacular one like Intolerance with the armies at each other?
Or should it be the story of a girl taken by the enemy and
separated from her sweetheart? He pondered the matter. One
evening he read in the paper how a French village had been
bombed, families separated, children taken from their mothers,
girls from their sweethearts. The idea came to him to try to
make an audience feel the suffering and loss of having their
homes destroyed and their families separated. He would show
the suffering and privations of an occupied village. He would
let one village and the people in it represent the whole of war.
Would the story be big enough? Should a war story be as big
as war itself? Should mighty guns roar and legions march?
As he had done when he had gotten the idea for Intolerance,
he began to write. He wrote all night. By morning the story
was laid off into scenes, and was completed. What would he
call it? He hit upon Hearts of the World. Since it was to be
chiefly about a French family, he would give someone else
credit, so he wrote:
Scenario by M. Gaston de Tolignac.
Translated into English by Captain
As fast as he could manage it, he got to Hollywood. He
found Billy Bitzer in the Griffith studio experimenting with
lenses and working with chemical baths and tinting fluids.
Billy was delighted to see The Master. "How is de picture go
"We had a bit of bad luck. It opened the day we declared
war on Germany."
"Did de paper mention de photography? Anyt'ing about de
walls? Maybe de golt chariot, yah? Is eet zo?"
He Goes to France 135
"No, Billy. Not a word."
"Den dey don't know what they see."
"Billy, I've got news for you! We're going to France to
make a war picture."
Billy's eyes got big. "Mit lots of cannons? Andt soldiers
marching? We take from a platform, is it not? "
"No, Billy. It's going to be a small picture but a big idea."
"What is de big idea?"
"To make the world safe for Democracy."
"Oh!" said Billy disappointedly. "We have dot in Judith of
Betoolia, but when de war was over, dere was no more Democ-
racy dan before."
"This war is different."
"Who tell you?"
"The Prime Minister of England."
Billy was silent for a moment. "I will do what I can, Mr.
Greefrlth. Is eet you take de Indian cloobs? "
"Where go I there go my Indian clubs!" said Griffith ex-
The word got around Hollywood that Griffith was going
to make a "war" picture which would be bigger than Intoler-
Meantime, Griffith set to work. Almost the first person he
selected for the cast was Adolph Lestina, who had been kind to
him in the Meffert Stock Company. He had Lestina in pictures
before, he would have him again.
Lillian Gish would play the lead; Dorothy Gish would be a
village girl; and now, since their mother was to go along as
chaperone, she would be in the cast, too. Robert Harron had
been with him at Biograph, and into the cast he went— and his
mother, his brother, and two sisters. Others were in the cast-
others who had been with him for years: Kate Bruce, George
136 Star Maker
Fawcett, George A. Siegmann. When he got to England and to
France, he would add to the list.
Immediately, when he got to England, he ran into trouble-
Billy Bitzer's German background. The secret service put Billy
under guard and began to "investigate" him. Griffith explained
the situation and the need for haste, but this made no difference
to the great secret service. Griffith and the cast were held up
three weeks. Finally Billy was cleared and off to France went
Here Griffith added to the cast. A young Britisher came up
and said, "I'm an actor and I'd like to get a job."
"The places are all filled, except somebody to play a French
peasant who pushes a wheelbarrow."
"I can push a wheelbarrow," said the young man, and he did.
His name was Noel Coward.
Griffith also added Erich von Stroheim to play a German
army officer. Even here, within sound of the guns, he rehearsed
the players as of old.
So much attention had the making of the film attracted that
he was invited to meet Queen Alexandra, consort Queen of
King Edward the Seventh— quite a way up for a boy who
had once run a rope elevator.
Back to Hollywood, where many of the interior scenes were
made. The picture must be cut, and soon he was again in the
evil-smelling little room, running the negative back and forth
and peering at it with his enlarging lens.
Hollywood waited eagerly to see the "war" picture that
was to be greater than Intolerance. He took it to Clune's Audi-
torium where The Birth of a Nation had opened three years
and one week ago. But no hooded horsemen clattered through
the streets; no Negroes stood pressed against the wall.
Again, as was so often the case with Griffith, he had over-
He Goes to France lyj
sentimental subtitles. One was, "Month after month piled up
its legend of Hunnish crime on the Book of God."
The audience was disappointed. Why! it wasn't a big pic-
ture at all— not a Griffith super. No towering walls. No Nubian
lions. It was a small picture, dealing only with a village and its
people. But it was moving; it showed what war did to people.
One believed in the characters and one suffered with them.
Griffith himself took a print and rushed to New York, as
he had done with Intolerance. It opened at the Forty-fourth
Street Theatre, April 5, 19 18. The audience reaction was about
the same as it had been in Los Angeles— good, but not the work
of a master. No Pinkerton detectives. No call by the mayor.
Was he slipping? Had he seen the heights and was he going
down the slopes? Would the exhibitors want to book his next
He was forty- three.
He kept up his Indian-club swinging; to this he added
sparring with a boxing partner. He engaged Kid McCoy and
nearly every evening the two went to the gymnasium, and thus
Griffith got a new kind of exercise. He was immensely proud
of his athletic ability and said that if a ruffian ever attacked him
on the streets he would be able to take care of him.
He still owed on Intolerance. He had to have money and,
with his amazing drive, he started in to make "commercial"
pictures, filming three in rapid succession: The Great Love,
The Greatest Thing in Life, A Romance of Happy Valley.
In the first he used the players that had been with him so
long and so successfully: Lillian Gish, Henry B. Walthall,
Robert Harron, George Fawcett, Rosemary Theby, Carol
Dempster, George A. Siegmann.
In the second he had his great favorite Lillian Gish, Robert
138 Star Maker
Harron, Elmo Lincoln, Kate Bruce, David Butler, and his long-
time friend Adolph Lestina.
And these same players, with a few changes, were the ones
who appeared in A Romance of Happy Valley.
Hollywood was puzzled. Here was Griffith, who had made
so many war pictures and pictures dealing with war, now mak-
ing pictures about a boy and a girl having a hard time getting
married! Could this be The Master? Why! there were half-a-
dozen directors who could have made these run-of-the-mill
Ambitious new directors were coming into pictures— direc-
tors who were using the effects that Griffith had invented, men
who hardly knew he had invented them— and cared less.
He eyed these men who had the drive he'd had when he had
first started. They would never catch up, he thought.
He had grown more and more important, and had come to
represent the motion-picture industry. Hollywood and its way
of life was beginning to attract public attention; in fact, so
much attention did it attract that Frederic and Fanny Hatton
wrote a play dealing with Hollywood and its madness. It was
entitled The Squab Farm. A squab, as set forth by the authors,
was a young and innocent girl— a chicken, as later the poor
unfortunate was called. The "farm" was the movie studio
where the squabs were prepared for public approval.
D. W. Griffith, the renowned director, was the hero of the
play; the part was played by Lowell Sherman. The play opened
at the Bijou Theatre, New York, March 13, 19 18. Griffith
came in and seated himself; all watched him. How would he
take this thinly disguised portrait of himself? Would there be
a lawsuit? This proud southerner.
The curtain went up. Griffith sat with an iron face. And
then the digs about Hollywood and motion pictures began. As
He Goes to France 139
they popped over the footlights, he was delighted and began
to laugh in his heavy, far-carrying voice. Every time a shaft
was fired into Hollywood, he applauded.
The plot dealt with the make-believe Griffith and his diffi-
culties in teaching would-be starlets how to act. One of the
girls was to play Eve and was to play it adorned as Eve had
been in the Garden of Eden. But the noble girl wouldn't
emulate her great ancestor, and caused the harassed director
no end of trouble. The thin plot was merely a chance to throw
barbs into Hollywood.
The star was Alma Tell. The New York critics praised her.
Not one wrote a word about a girl who was a member of the
cast— Tallulah Bankhead.
This is what she wrote about the matter in her autobiog-
I got my toe in the theater, thanks to a letter from Daddy to a
nabob in the Shubert office. J. C. Huffman needed four young
girls— walk-ons— to dress up the stage in The Squab Farm. I applied
and was named one of the squabs. The play was an attempt to
satirize the lunacies of Hollywood.
Although programmed, only one critic noticed us— the New
York World man. This is what he said: "There are four girls in
the company who might better be back in the care of their
I was too jumpy to have any idea of the merit, or lack of
merit, of the play. The rehearsals were a nightmare. The other
girls had had experience. The four of us dressed together. When
I whistled in the dressing-room, they wanted to lynch me. I was
horribly hurt and cried my heart out. Julie Bruns, one of the
featured plavers, took pity on me and let me share her dressing-
room. This further alienated the other girls. I was so hell-bent on
looking sophisticated that I made up like Theda Bara.
The show played three days in New Haven, then got ready to
open in New York. On the day it was to open, one of the papers
ran a story based on my grandfather, my father and Uncle John.
The catchline said, "Society Girl Goes on the Stage." This libel
i^o Star Maker
said I had the featured role. Though none of my doing, the story
irked the other members of the company, particularly Alma Tell.
Immediately I was aware they thought me guilty of the un-
pardonable sin— seeking billing beyond deserts. Now what should
happen? My Aunt Louise bounced into town two days before
the opening. Terrified, I approached one of the girls who had a
single line and pleaded with her not to speak that line on the
night Aunt Louise would be in the audience. Graciously she con-
sented. When my cue came, I was so shriveled with fear I couldn't
open my mouth. A nasty little stage wait ensued. The girl who
had befriended me was bawled out by the stage manager who
thought she had dried up. The play lasted only four weeks, which
was fortunate, for I was Typhoid Mary.
Griffith's dislike of Hollywood and motion pictures took
form in other ways. One was for what he called the "silly"
names the girls were taking. He spoke of this often and always
belittlingly. Among the pretentious names were Arline Pretty,
Elinor Fair, Billy Dove, Bessie Love, Louise Lovely, Blanche
Sweet— the latter one of his stars.
He still did not have enough money; none of the men who
had backed Intolerance must lose a penny. His high sense of
honor drove him on. He made The Girl Who Stayed at Home.
It would have been better if Griffith had stayed at home. And
he made True Heart Susie, who may have had a true heart but
little more. The simple girl fell in love and sold her cows so
the boy could go to college and get an education. What hap-
pened was shocking. The ungrateful wretch fell in love with
another girl. But at last her good heart won him from his
foolishness. The film opened at the Strand Theatre, New York,
March 23, 19 19. The critic for the New York Evening Mail
said it was endearing, and would be as enduring as Dickens'
Christmas Carol. "It's the kind of story," he wrote, "that makes
you both laugh and cry at the same time." It seemed that he
was alone in his tears, for the other critics said that Susie, in
He Goes to France 141
spite of her noble heart, was close to being a downright bore.
Mary Pickford was making $1,000 a day for every day of
the year. Griffith was struggling along with commercial pic-
tures and the immense debt he had agreed to pay for the mak-
ing of Intolerance.
Griffith was proud of the way Little Mary had succeeded.
He had discovered her; he had, in a way, made her. The appeal
she had to a world audience was almost unbelievable; at the
age of twenty-three she was the most valuable property in mo-
tion pictures. She represented Goodness lined up against Bad-
ness. No one in any audience had any doubt which side would
win, but the people sat breathlessly watching. She was retelling
the old "rags to riches" story, but she had a dozen golden curls
and lovely eyes to do it with. She was so innocent and big-eyed
that every male in the audience wanted to rush to her side and
send the villain about his business; the men didn't seem to know
that if they would be patient she would take care of the matter
herself. She showed that if you thought good thoughts and had
Faith, then everything would turn out right. Life— her pictures
preached— was what you made it. The world public thought
this was true and started in to remake their lives. The result was
exhilarating— especially at the box office.
Griffith, astute showman that he was, knew all this. It did
not agree with his view of life, but he was delighted that Mary
Pickford was giving the world what it wanted and getting well
paid for it.
Meantime for him the nights were long and they were rest-
less. What should he do next? What kind of picture? He must
not let his health run down, and so he kept up his Indian-club
swinging and his sparring with Kid McCoy.
HE HAS A TREMENDOUS SUCCESS
IN BROKEN BLOSSOMS
From the very beginning he had dealt in
sweet and noble girls— girls who had never had an unworthy-
thought in all their pure lives. Mary Pickford was a good
example. He had a little twist for making her delectable. This
was to have her photographed, in the early part of a film, hold-
ing a white rabbit. And often he dressed Mary in white, repre-
senting purity. This was not pointed up, but there it was
psychologically. If another kind of woman had to be in the
story, she was shown as much older and as a town gossip. No
director could get as much out of a town gossip as D. W. Grif-
fith could. Often he used two, so they could react on each
Suddenly there swept across the screen a female vastly
different from Griffith's noble girls. She appeared first in A
Fool There Was; she was not only ignoble but as dangerous as
an adder. The foul creature would come at night, or when the
victim was unprepared, and suck its blood and let the victim
die a horrible death.
"Vampire" was shortened into "vamp," and suddenly Amer-
ica became "vamp" conscious. Every high school had a vam-
pire or two going about their horrible business. Boys, who
should have known better, were fascinated by them.
A Cincinnati girl was the one who started the whole shock-
He Has a Tremendous Success in Broken Blossoms 143
ing business. Her name was Theodosia Goodman, the daughter
of a tailor. She was in the film version of the stage play A Fool
There Was. She was supposed to play a character known as
"Arab Death," but this was too horrible to pass on to sensitive
audiences, so a thoughtful publicity department renamed her
Theda Bara. Bara was Arab spelled backward and the word
Death was moved a little off center so that it became Theda.
The publicity department said she was the daughter of a
French soldier and a native Egyptian girl and that she was
born in Egypt. At a press conference she was asked where ex-
actly in Egypt she was born.
"On the banks of the Nile," she said.
She was reminded that the Nile was two thousand miles long
and was asked where on the Nile.
"On the left bank," she said.
She was frightfully evil. Men sold their souls for a smile.
Old men especially sold out; when she had drained them of the
last drop of their financial blood, she would light a cigarette
and look around for another fool.
Griffith thoroughly disliked the idea of such a woman. He
still believed in white rabbits, but white rabbits were losing out.
He was shocked that the public no longer wanted the kind of
girl he had built his reputation on. But the crowd were going
to the theaters where the vampire was showing, not to the one
with the white rabbits. He was embittered, but consoled him-
self by saying this was typical of motion pictures, that
pandered only to the lowest.
Would the craze for the dangerous woman pass, and once
more the sweet and innocent girl come back into public liking?
However, now and then he had taken excursions into the
macabre. There was Judith who danced so shockingly with
144 Star Maker
Holofernes' head. But this was only a passing interest for him.
He had built his reputation on something else, indeed.
Other matters were happening. In February 19 19 the Four
Greats met in an office in Hollywood: Mary Pickford, Doug-
las Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and D. W. Griffith. As Grif-
fith sat in one of the big leather chairs that business offices be-
lieved they had to have, he looked at Mary Pickford. Was it
possible that ten years had passed since she had come that day
to the old Biograph studio? She still had the same golden curls,
the same winsome ways, the same appealing manner.
"Mary, do you remember in Pippa Passes how you carried
a guitar and pretended you were playing and singing?"
"I do. And I remember how you wanted to pay me only five
dollars for a day's work! "
"And I remember how you made me shake loose of ten dol-
lars! Mr. McCutcheon denounced me bitterly."
They laughed almost tearfully over what they called "the
"Do you remember how you bit me?"
"I do, and I remember you deserved it. I remember how you
called Lottie and me 'wild cats.' If that doesn't deserve a bite,
I don't know what does. Also I remember how you followed
me to the sidewalk and begged me to come back to the set."
"I remember that, too," Griffith said.
"If I hadn't gone back ... I might not be in pictures today."
The two thought about the wonder of life, the almost over-
whelming effect of a small incident.
"And I remember how my dress was pinned up in the back
so I couldn't turn my back to the camera."
They laughed about this.
"Oh!" said Mary banteringly. "How did you ever come out
in that terrific fight you had with that stuffed eagle?"
He Has a Tremendous Success in Broken Blossoms 145
Even now he was ashamed of how he had started in pictures.
"I remember, Mr. Griffith," continued Mary, "when you in-
vented the close-up, how the audiences stormed and stomped
because the actors on the screen were shown without legs!"
"I certainly remember it," said Griffith wryly. "I was almost
fired for cutting off their legs."
"Do you remember the day Lionel Barrymore came down
to the studio, ashamed to be seen on the premises?" she asked.
"I do," declared Griffith. "But he wasn't the only one. Some
were using assumed names."
He looked at Douglas Fairbanks and spoke with a pretense
at severity. "And don't forget, young man, I was the one who
gave you your start in pictures. It was in The Lamb and you
were not any too good."
"You asked me to play in your next picture," said Fairbanks.
"Lay it to my kind heart," said Griffith.
The businessmen came, and personal talk had to be dropped.
When the meeting was over, the United Artists had been
organized. It had the greatest stars in the world, and the great-
est director. It would do wonderful things.
He delayed, uncertain what to do. He must, as one of the
Four Greats, make an important picture. But that was easier
said than done.
Mary Pickford came to him aglow with excitement. "Mr.
Griffith, I've been reading a book called Limehouse Nights, by
Thomas Burke. Limehouse is in London and the story has a
London background. There's a chapter in it that might make a
"What is it?"
"The chapter is called 'The Chink and the Child.' It has
1^6 Star Maker
to do with a British girl who falls in love with a Chinese but
is opposed by her brutal father. It's beautiful and touching."
Griffith read the chapter and was so stirred that he began,
then and there, to make an outline. And he did as he had done
so many times before— wrote all night. In the morning, as he
was swinging his Indian clubs, the title came to him: Broken
Blossoms. The White Girl and the Yellow Man. Later he
shortened this to the first two words.
First was to get his favorite, and this he did— Lillian Gish.
And soon he had the complete cast:
The Girl Lillian Gish
The Chinaman Richard Barthelmess
the Girl's Father .... Donald Crisp
His Manager Arthur Howard
Evil Eye Edward Peil
A Prize Fighter Kid McCoy
The Spying One .... George Beranger
The latter was the company manager and was to appear
only as a brief bit, hardly a player at all.
The gossip got out that Griffith was making a "Chinese pic-
ture." That would be absurd, said wise and knowing Holly-
wood. Nobody wanted to see a Chinese love story laid in the
slums of London. He was going to miss it again.
The plot was simple: the girl was in love with a Chinese
and was determined to marry him. The father, a coarse crea-
ture, was determined there would be no marriage. In the end,
the father killed the girl to keep her from marrying the
The plot, told in this way, was bald and shocking. But it
He Has a Tremendous Success in Broken Blossoms iqj
did not have the direction of the inspired Griffith, nor his
vision of what he could do with his players. In scene after
scene The Master rose to heights he had never before attained:
the girl cringing before her father's whip, the ruffians dragging
her along the banks of the river as seen through a fog.
The attention he gave to details was astonishing. There was
to be a musical accompaniment, and when the girl died he
wanted to get music that would suggest her death struggle and
the flight of her soul to the rich beyond. He worked for two
days, going over and over the cue music in this scene which
would last six seconds, but was not satisfied; nothing like the
release of a soul. Billy Bitzer suggested a Russian orchestra;
the orchestra was brought to the studio. Finally Griffith hit
on the idea of using a balalaika instrument; he tried one, liked
it, and finally used four to give the effect he wished. In his care
for detail he was tireless; and he was tireless, too. Every night,
before he went to bed, he either read or worked on one of his
Then came the days in the cutting room with Jimmie Smith,
his cutter; the endless running of the negative back and forth,
the peering at it through the enlarging lens. At last it was done.
Would the simple story appeal to an audience fed on violence?
When the picture was assembled, he showed it to Adolph
Zukor, his principal backer. Zukor watched it in icy silence,
relieved now and then with a resentful squirm. When it was
over, he said, "It's not a good program picture. We can't sell
The George M. Cohan Theatre was engaged. Many leaders
of New York were to be there: Sir Thomas Lipton, William
Gibbs McAdoo, Charles Dana Gibson, Douglas L. Elliman,
Nathan Straus, Dr. Christian F. Reisner, Rabbi Joseph Silver-
1^8 Star Maker
man, Rupert Hughes, Frank Crowninshield, Ben AH Haggin.
In the audience were Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess.
The picture opened the evening of May 12, 19 19. Special
seats were three dollars each— the highest price ever charged
for a motion picture.
It was a tremendous success. Critics called it "the perfect
The Master had come back.
The success of the picture was phenomenal. For some time
the trade papers had been calling him "the Belasco of the
screen"; now he became "the Shakespeare of motion pictures"
—quite an elevation for a man who had started his career fight-
ing an eagle.
His ambitions soared. He was going to build a theater of his
own to be called "The Griffith." Not only that but he was
going to build a chain of theaters across the country to show
only his pictures.
With his success he became more arrogant than ever. "They
thought they had me down, but they didn't. Let the young
directors come along. I know things they'll never know."
He paid on the indebtedness of Intolerance.
HE HAS ANOTHER SUCCESS
IN WAY DOWN EAST
As the Four Greats began to work To-
gether, Griffith could not understand the elfin Charlie Chaplin.
Griffith had little taste for comedy, especially the alley comedy
of "The Little Man," as he called him. Chaplin, on the other
hand, had little enthusiasm for the cold and aloof director who
went in so heavily for war and dewy-eyed girls. Nor could
Griffith understand Douglas Fairbanks. "Fairbanks thinks that
acting is leaping from one place to another," he said scornfully.
Mary Pickf ord was the peacemaker and, some way or other,
managed to keep the men— so completely different— from fly-
ing at each other.
Griffith began to develop certain principles in the making
of stories. One was, "It's better to appeal to the heart than to
the head. After all, the theater is a place of dreams." His men
might be remarkably strong and his women wondrously pure,
but that was the way the public wanted them, and a showman's
first duty was to please his customers. Nevertheless, he still
looked down on motion pictures as shoddy entertainment. In
the plays he was secretly writing his men would be more
nearly human and his women less rosebud lipped.
It pained him to see some pictures on the screen— such
films as The Perils of Pauline; Tom Mix, the "cowboy" born
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in a Pennsylvania coal-mining town; the so-called "vampires,"
the desert sheiks, the cross-eyed comedian that Mack Sennett
found so delightful; obese men like Fatty Arbuckle. How
could the public stomach them, when he couldn't get his plays
Again what story to make was the problem. Half the success
was the choice of story. If the story was weak, then no matter
how skilled the direction, the photography, and the editing,
the production would have little appeal. And he must keep
money coming in, to be paid to the backers of Intolerance, for
he had an almost fanatic determination to pay off that indebt-
edness. In addition, there were the payments to Linda.
He made two hasty productions: Scarlet Days and The
Greatest Question, both weak sisters. On top of this he moved
his studio from Hollywood to Mamaroneck, New York, in a
mansion built by Henry M. Flagler. He would do great things
here. He would do another Broken Blossoms.
Did he want to make a great spectacle, or a boy and girl
walking hand in hand into the sunset?
In addition there was the sense of rivalry he felt toward
the other three. He must make as good a picture as any of
theirs. These three had all made pictures that were becoming
more and more popular. Mary Pickford was getting a million
dollars a year. The Jumping Jack was rising as a box-office
star. And The Little Man was gaining a world-wide audience.
Why did a pair of baggy pants and a cane have such an appeal?
One day, when Griffith was holding up his nose, the business
manager for United Artists said: "D. W., did you know that
the Fairbanks pictures and the Chaplin pictures are making
more money than yours?" Griffith had known it, in a way, but
here it was baldly stated by somebody who knew. They were
He Has Another Success in Way Down East 151
devastating words. How, he asked himself, could silly comedies
and wall- jumping pictures outsell fine stories of real people?
Well, his next picture would be an unusually good one.
Brother Albert suggested the stage play Way Dow?! East,
a crossroads story in which all had noble hearts, except the
villains, whose hearts were as stovelids. Griffith didn't know
whether he wanted to do such a bucolic story or not, but when
he looked into it he found that the play had a remarkable his-
tory. Lottie Blair Parker, from Otsego, New York, had gone
to Boston to a school of expression to learn to give "dramatic
readings," just then a popular form of torture. She studied
this device for a while, then drifted into acting and soon was
playing in support of Dion Boucicault; then she had written
this play of noble hearts and downright meanness. It had first
been produced in 1898 and had been going great guns ever
since. After it had been running a short time, William A. Brady
cast his eye upon it and all he saw was beauty. And so he
bought the play from the author, and owned it fore and aft.
Brother Albert went seeking information. "How much do
you want for it, Mr. Brady?"
"One hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars."
Brother Albert was a bit stunned and so was D. W.
D. W. entered into a series of protests with Brady which
got nowhere impressively. And so the money was paid over.
None of it went to the author, which would seem to show how
things were in 1920. Anthony Paul Kelly was paid three
thousand dollars to adapt it to the screen; now, for the first
time, Griffith had a scenario.
When the businessmen heard that Griffith had paid that
much for just the story, they knew where he would end.
The story dealt with the fine people of New England, with
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a few mean characters thrown in just to be true to New Eng-
land. The snow scenes were made in Central Park, New York,
and then the cast was taken to New London, Connecticut, to
wait for the ice in the Connecticut River to break. The ice
stubbornly refused to break.
Griffith took care of this by going to an open part of the
river and having the carpenters saw boards, make platforms
and paint them. Then he made the picture. The audiences were
thrilled to see the good people in the story escape over the
treacherous ice just in the nick of time. No dogs.
Finally the picture was finished. It had cost $1,004,662.
The picture opened in New York in August 1920.
It was a huge success.
People said that the ice scenes were thrillingly realistic.
Again The Master had succeeded. He would always succeed,
his followers said. He would always be The Master. No man,
as great as he was, could be pulled down, especially when he
had such a star as Lillian Gish. Then in June of that year there
was the startling news that Lillian Gish had left him to join
In spite of his supporters, detractors were springing up. One
detractor said bitterly, "The man sees love in terms of a cooing
dove and death in the terms of a falling rose petal. We need
something stronger than these pallid depictions."
Griffith needed even more money coming in; so he did as he
had done twice before after outstanding successes— turned out
a potboiler. In fact, this time he turned out two. One was The
Love Flower, the other was Dream Street, neither of which
sent adjectives flying. His touch was as sure as ever.
However, he was forty-six. New, vigorous directors were
coming into the field. But this didn't alarm this man who had
He Has Another Success in Way Down East 153
such supreme self-confidence. After all, he'd made The Birth
of a Nation and Broken Blossoms.
He remembered the French play The Two Orphans which
had been playing off and on in America for forty-eight years.
Great names had adorned it like stars on a Christmas tree. It
had been written originally by Adolph d'Ennery and Eugene
Cormon and had been translated into English by half-a-dozen
different people. The story embraced some of the great histori-
cal names in France: Danton, Robespierre, King Louis XVI.
Griffith went to see Lillian Gish. "I want you to come back
with me," he said. She was touched; after all, he had made her
and, for that matter, she had made him. Together they could
not be defeated. That was what he believed and it was what
Lillian agreed to come back.
The moment he found he could star both Lillian and
Dorothy Gish, his mind was made up. He adapted the story to
suit his two stars, and he changed the title to Orphans of the
Storm. The story:
The parents of the two girls had died of the plague; the
sisters were being sent to Paris where relatives would take care
of them. Dorothy, who was blind, had to be led by her sister.
And so into the Paris-bound coach the two girls got, never
dreaming of the trouble they were also getting into. The coach
was rolling nicely along when out from his vast estate came the
great and powerful Marquis de Praille in his Normandy coach,
with mounted outriders and coachmen attired in elegant uni-
forms. It so happened that the girls' coach came along at ex-
actly the wrong moment and blocked the marquis' coach,
whereupon the marquis flew into a rage and began to beat the
boys attending the girls' coach. As he was whacking away,
i54 Star Maker
his eyes fell on Lillian's frightened face. He stopped his wicked
blows, adjusted his silk shawl and his lace muff, and approached
Lillian, who was too frightened to speak. He found where she
was going in Paris and a low plan entered his unworthy head.
Finally his coach rolled on, and Lillian breathed a sigh of re-
lief, not knowing what the dastardly man was up to.
He waited until she was safely at her destination, then sent
his servant to abduct her and bring her to a grand fete he was
giving in his town gardens. In spite of all she could do, the evil
man took her there, and stood menacingly in the background
to see that she did not escape. Dorothy, poor girl, had been left
behind. She, too, had her share of trouble, for she fell into the
hands of Madame Frochard, who had not a spark of goodness
in her twisted soul.
When things looked blackest for Lillian, two men fell in
love with her. The men were mixed up in the political situation
and pretty soon were fighting over her like tigers. One was the
noble Danton and the other a villain if there ever was one-
Robespierre. Danton represented the common people, Robes-
pierre the long-haired boys. Things got so bad that Robespierre
demanded Lillian's life and she was led to the guillotine. She
was saved in the nick of time by the noble Chevalier de
Vaudrey who, as the play ended, took her off to a little vine-
covered cottage by the sea. Lillian said that her poor, un-
fortunate sister should go with her, but at the right moment
another noble man showed up, took Dorothy by the hand,
and the story ended in moonlight and roses.
To the critical, the plot might seem absurd and silly, but
with the glamour that Griffith was able to surround it with, it
set audiences by the ears. They lived and suffered with the
two girls and rejoiced when Lillian nailed the right man down.
He Has Another Success in Way Down East
Cast of the principals:
The Blind Sister
The Mean Marquis .
Chevalier de Vaudrey
Louis XVI, King
of France .
The Doctor .
Lucille La Verne
The last was Griffith's good friend from the early days.
Griffith prepared to give his genius for authenticity and de-
tail. The room in the palace where the king was to appear was
a replica in the dimension, decorations, and paintings of the
grand salon in the Palace of the Kings, in Versailles.
With the complete confidence in himself he'd had when he
made The Birth of a Nation, he thought only of the story and
not the money.
The picture moved along.
At last he entered the evil-smelling room with Jimmie Smith,
and there began the running back and forth of the negative.
The work was done, the prints were made.
The biggest electric announcements that had ever been seen
on Broadway lifted their heads and told the world about the
wonders that soon could be seen at the Strand Theatre.
And there it opened May 7, 1922.
It was another fabulous success.
156 Star Maker
The Master had scored again. He would always score.
The usually reserved New York Sun said: "One has to look
away to keep from being swept away by the flood of events."
The other New York papers let the people look after them-
selves in the flood of events.
Griffith was delighted, but was secretly discontented. He
had, he thought, only ground out another sausage. As soon as
he had his debts paid off, he would drop the whole miserable
business of picture making and do something worth-while.
He was the most popular, the most-sought-after man on
Broadway; everybody wanted to meet this "genius of the
films." Interviewers came. He told little about himself. Mostly
he said he was from Louisville, Kentucky; sometimes he said
he was from LaGrange. He said that he was born in 1880 and
that he had been a newspaperman in Louisville. He did not
mention that he had had a play produced in Washington. That
was too long ago. Fie gave the impression, without quite saying
so, that his only interest was in making motion pictures.
Now and then he would get a letter from Linda; sometimes
she called by long distance. "I need a little more money,
D. W.," she would say in her overly sweet voice. "I'm not do-
ing so well in pictures."
"How much, Linda?"
She would tell him; there would be an expression of good
wishes, and the conversation would be over.
To those he knew and to the people he met he never men-
tioned her. In fact, many did not know he had ever been
He continued to live a double life— the one the public saw,
the one no one saw. He lived in the Hotel Astor. Once, when
he was asked why he liked the hotel so much, he said, "When
He Has Another Success in Way Down East 157
I first came to New York, I used to look at it in awe. The great
and powerful lived there— that's why I like to live there."
He liked to go to the theater, where he sat absorbed in the
scenes before him. Sometimes he went to a motion-picture
theater where he sat coldly and silently watching the film run
by; sometimes, in the middle of the picture, he would get up
and stalk out.
He enjoyed associating with actors. He was a member of
The Players, where he treated even the small fry with great
respect; they were playing on Broadway, something he had
never been able to do. For statesmen and the international great
he had no fear at all. But in the presence of the great actors
he was meek and sometimes talked not at all, but kept his
grayish-blue eyes fastened on them, laughing when they
laughed, growing serious when the conversation turned that
He liked to go to Times Square before theater time and
watch to see if he could spot any actors hurrying to the
theater. There the tall, thin, spare, big-nosed man would stand,
One evening he saw Lionel and John Barrymore walking
arm in arm. A little of the awe he had for great actors came
over him; however, he threw this off and stepped boldly for-
"Hello, Lionel! How are you?"
Lionel looked at him impersonally. "Oh, yes, Griffith! This
is my brother Jack."
John Barrymore grunted, then let his eyes wander off into
Griffith spoke eagerly. "Do you remember, Lionel, how you
came down to the old Biograph on East Fourteenth Street?"
158 Star Maker
"Yes, I remember it. Long time ago, wasn't it? I believe I
was in a picture you directed, wasn't I?"
"Yes. The New York Hat. You were what we called an 'up-
town actor.' "
"Yes, I do remember they were called that. Well, we'll have
to hurry along."
In a moment the two were gone. Griffith stood looking after
HE STARTS DOWNHILL
One day his business manager told him
exceedingly good news and in no time he was on the train. He
had made many trips to Hollywood; this was to be the most
Los Angeles had changed since he had arrived for the first
time and set up a studio. Central Park, where the Clansmen
had ridden to herald The Birth of a Nation, was now Pershing
Square. An office building stood where his actors had once
braved the cameras.
He went out to see where Intolerance had been made— that
was seven years ago. Here it was that the Pacific Electric Rail-
way System of southern California had laid a track to the
entrance of Babylon to carry extras and food supplies and to
transport the elephants and Nubian lions. The track was gone,
but as he walked here and there a sight-seeing bus came roar-
ing up with a man with a megaphone shouting out Griffith's
name and telling of the wonders of the great hall where the
Feast of Belshazzar had been held.
Jerusalem had been torn down and the City of Paris, as it
had been on St. Bartholomew's Eve, was in the grip of a real-
estate "sub divider "—a cruel fate. He looked about him sadly.
Was his life's work over? Or would he go still higher? What
an inscrutable creature Fate was! Why, he was forty-seven!
He had not accomplished nearly so much as he had hoped
160 Star Maker
when he had been a young man in Kentucky. He had thought
of himself then as a genius
He walked along the great walls. Plaster elephants still
stood on their hind legs, their forelegs in front of them, their
trunks uplifted. Bird-beaked deities looked down with a single
eye on the inconsequential humans; they themselves lived with
Pausing, he looked about him uncertainly. It must have been
here that the great siege towers had stood— mighty affairs that
held fifty warriors, the towers pushed forward by slaves on
the ground. Here he had sent up a balloon, with a basket under-
neath, and in it had been Billy and himself; and here he had
leaned over the side of the basket and with his megaphone had
shouted orders to the extras below. Oh! those were glorious
days. Don't we ever know, until it is too late, when we are in
our glorious days? What a great, what a touching concept he'd
had for his drama. How poorly the public had responded. But
that was the way of mass entertainment. If he had put this con-
cept into a stage play, the result would have been different.
He'd get back to his playwriting. He'd do some serious cre-
Finally he left, touched by what he had seen and felt. He
came later to the business office— the same office, it seemed,
with its garish decorations and its great unwieldy leather
chairs. How many times he had sat with businessmen he
couldn't understand, and who couldn't understand him— the
eternal conflict between business and art.
There was talk; there were jokes— of a sort.
At last the big, the exciting, the wonderful moment had
"Gentlemen," said Griffith, "I am prepared to pay off the
He Starts Downhill 161
rest of the indebtedness on Intolerance. Not one investor has
lost a penny."
It had taken seven years, but he had accomplished it.
The men were pleased. It was nice of him to take his respon-
sibility so seriously.
He went to see Mack Sennett, who was big and hearty and
glad to see his old friend. Mack spoke of The Curtain Pole
with which he had knocked 'em around so humorously. What
was Wally doin' now? Good gracious, how quickly you got
out of touch with people who once had been so important to
My! how much time had passed since the "early days."
Mary Pickford had divorced Owen Moore and was now mar-
ried to Douglas Fairbanks and was living in fabulous "Pick-
Mack asked cautiously after Griffith's new picture.
It was going to be great, Griffith said. It had a message.
Mack rubbed his chin and chewed his tobacco.
"What you want a message for, D. W.?"
"I like to say something worth-while," said Griffith, a bit
sensitive, now that he had been challenged.
"The public isn't interested in messages. They want to
"What," asked Griffith, "is the basis of comedy?"
The mighty Mack took another chew. "If it seems funny to
me, it's comedy."
Griffith was puzzled. The answer made sense. After all,
didn't he himself make pictures to suit himself? Wasn't Mack
doing the same? Was a director at his best when he made pic-
tures for himself? But, he had to admit to himself, the business
office was having more and more to say about the kind of
pictures he made.
162 Star Maker
"What are your stories usually about?" Griffith asked.
"I find the plots of my stories either in crime or sex. You're
on safe grounds there."
At last Griffith had to go. The two men, so utterly dis-
similar, shook hands heartily. Each had respect for the other,
but not understanding.
Griffith went back to New York, happier and more content
than he had been in years. He didn't owe a cent, except the
money he had to pay Linda— 15 per cent of all he made.
He would do a few more pictures, then he would have
enough money put by to do something worth-while. But he
didn't put it by; he became one of the big spenders on Broad-
way. Down-and-out actors came with outstretched hands.
He'd been one once himself. Hadn't he picked hops in Cali-
fornia? And worked in a steel mill in Tonawanda, New York?
And with a pick and shovel in the subway in New York?
And, when a show had closed, hadn't he hoboed his way from
Minneapolis to Louisville?
Such incredible energy had he that he was able to work at
night. In his bathrobe he would write into the morning. He
sent stories out; they came back. He worked on his plays. The
Treadmill was giving him trouble. But he would solve it, he
told himself. Great plays were not written at a sitting.
Strangely enough, he did not show his plays to any of the
actors who came to him applying for work. He would write
the play alone and by himself. The play was getting better all
One evening the telephone rang. A voice said, "Is dot Mr.
"Where are you, Billy?" said Griffith, delighted.
"Down in der lobby."
"Come a-runnin', Billy."
He Starts Downhill 163
This was strange, Griffith thought as he put away his writing
things. In all the years he'd known Billy, Billy had never come
to the hotel and he himself had never been to Billy's home.
There he was in a few moments— thick of chest, square of
shoulder— that great genius of the camera. On his head, this
time, a hat. He came in, ill at ease, which he tried to cover
by looking around with a pretense of being humorous. "What
is eet, no Indian cloobs? I hear you were always schwinging
"I still schwing them, but not as much as I used to."
Billy sat down; his hand went into his pocket and out came
a German pipe. He began to tamp in the tobacco with a stained
finger. How well Griffith knew those wonderful hands, those
hands which were always discolored by chemicals and develop-
"I see you've got the same discolored hands," said Griffith
"It is zo. You see the bluish specks?"
"You put dem dere, Mr. Greeffith. When we make The
Birth a bomb for de battle come so close it burn my handt."
They talked of the "old days." "I wish I could made Res-
cue from an Eagle's Nest" said Billy humorously. "Maybe I
could have make de eagle look bigger!"
"How long is it we have been together, Billy?" Griffith
asked as they talked.
"Dot is what I wish to speak of. I have count it oop andt it
is sixteen year."
"Is it possible! Well, say, we've put some over home plate,
"It is zo. But mebbe it is no more."
164 Star Maker
"What do you mean, Billy?" asked Griffith, catching the
serious note in Billy's voice.
So choked was Billy it was a moment before he could an-
swer. "I am leaving you, Mr. Greeffith. I am to go where
more money is."
"Listen, Billy," said Griffith, immensely concerned. "You
wouldn't leave me. I can't get along without you."
Billy was touched. "It is the money. My family it is grow-
ing. I promise mine wife."
"Maybe I can arrange for you to get more money, Billy."
"I have promise."
"I'm going to Germany to make Isn't Life Wonderful. I
want you to go along with me, Billy. You could jabber that
language right back at them. Do you remember the trouble
we had getting you into France to make Hearts of the
"I laugh now, but I didn't den."
"Will you go with me, Billy?"
"I am sorry. I have promise."
They continued to talk, both sad that the old days were over.
The two would have to go their different ways. How would
After Billy left, Griffith sat for some moments, reflecting
on life, then turned back to his writing.
His dewy-eyed, golden-haired heroine was giving way to a
quite different creature— the kind represented by Clara Bow,
Mae West, Theda Bara. The simple cottage that his heroine,
in his stories, had always inhabited was giving way to Malibu
mansions. Worst of all the business office was calling for "com-
mercial" pictures— pictures that would fit neatly into the
weekly change of program and wouldn't cost too much. Grif-
fith had no heart to make them. But whether he liked it or not,
He Starts Downhill 165
he must keep turning them out. How long would the demand
Griffith left July 4, 1924, for Germany with his two new
stars, Carol Dempster and Neil Hamilton.
Isn't Life Wonderful was released in December of that year.
The story dealt with displaced people in Europe trying to
find new homes and to live.
The public had had enough of war and wanted no more of
it. The picture was an artistic success, a financial failure.
Mutterings were coming from the exhibitors. They were
booking the pictures because of his fabulous name, but his
pictures were not filling the theaters. Had Griffith lost his
A cold wind blew across him. A person he had watched with
great interest was William S. Hart, who had the curious
middle name of Surrey, and who was five years older than
Griffith. Hart was born in Newburgh, New York, of parents
almost as poverty-stricken as Griffith's. The Hart family had
gone West, to Dakota Territory, and there young Hart had
grown up. Later the family had to come back to Newburgh
where Hart's father was the janitor of an apartment house.
When young Hart was old enough to know what he wanted
to do, he had become a Shakespearean actor. In 19 14 he had
gone into films, first as a "straight" actor, then as a Western.
His success was amazing. No one could look down a pistol
barrel with the steely eyes he could; in addition, he had a
vertical crease between his eyes. When he tightened the crease,
villains died in their tracks and innocent girls got safely back
to the ranch house.
He knew enough about the West to insist that his pictures
be true to life. One instance was that of swimming oxen across
166 Star Maker
a river. For years directors had swum the oxen with their neck
yokes on. Hart said this was utterly impossible and that the
oxen would drown before they were halfway across. He was
such a great star that he had his way: no neck yoke.
Other Western actors were coming along who did not try
to be faithful to fact, but who played in the kind of romantic,
glamorous, never-never-land pictures that the public liked.
Hart established the Good Bad Man— the man who was bad
because he hadn't been treated right by society; or who was
going to avenge the killing of his brother. The number of
men roaming the West trying to find the skunk who had killed
their brother was almost overwhelming.
Little by little Hart failed to be "box office." The crease was
not bringing them in.
He began going down in 1920. He tried a comeback in 1922
and allowed himself to get mixed up in some bizarre publicity
attempts. But his day was over. He made his last picture in 1925
—Tumbleweeds. So desperately eager was he for public at-
tention that in 1927 he had a bronze statue of himself and his
horse made by the sculptor C. C. Cristadora; it was called the
"Range Rider of the Yellowstone." He himself paid for it and
gave it to the city of Billings, Montana, where on a hill William
S. Hart stands today looking out across the West he could not
His career had lasted eleven years.
Hart had been the greatest Western actor ever known. But
now he was forgotten. What would happen to himself, Grif-
fith asked? He would not be forgotten, he assured himself. A
director was different.
A person he had little respect for was Tom Mix, who was
born Thomas Edwin Mix, at Mix Run, Clearfield County, in
the coal-mining section of western Pennsylvania. His father
He Starts Downhill i6j
was the hostler to the rich man of the town; Tom, in reality,
was born in the rich man's stable. He had run away from home,
gone into the Spanish-American War where he had served
with distinction. After a series of ups and downs he had gone
to Guthrie, Oklahoma, where he was a bartender. Finally he
had got into moving pictures and now, this year— the year
William S. Hart was fading out, 1925— was making $17,000 a
week. He had an elaborate home in Beverly Hills, a swimming
pool, and an English butler.
Griffith studied this, too. What would happen to himself?
The stars he had made began joining other companies and
working under other directors. New directors were coming
in. The Germans were especially able; they employed devices
he had invented and to them added their own. Among the new
directors were Lubitsch, Seastrom, Von Stroheim— the latter
had worked for him as an actor in The Birth of a Nation.
Griffith was growing desperate. He was living on the returns
from The Birth of a Nation. The exhibitors were losing faith
in him. He must do something. And then the idea came to him.
He would make another spectacle like The Birth of a Nation;
only this would be bigger. He would tell the story of the
making of America— the birth of a whole nation, not just that
of a section. His brain was on fire, as it had been when he had
conceived other great pictures, and he set to work writing the
story. He had long been interested in American history, and
so, inspired, he began to write the story of America. One of the
sequences would tell of Paul Revere's ride. When the time
came for filming that part of the story, Griffith could not find
a horse near Boston that suited him, so he got one in New York
and had it brought to Boston in a van behind a car.
He engaged Carol Dempster and Neil Hamilton to play the
love story that would hold history together. Finally he started
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the picture; again he was commanding great mobs of people-
giving directions, telling them what to do.
Finally the picture— America— was completed and offered to
the public in March 1924. It was a failure. In some places there
were touches of greatness, but for the most part it was just
plain dull. People didn't care whether Paul Revere got there or
Griffith was shocked. Why! he had a bigger and more im-
portant idea than he'd had in The Birth of a Nation, yet it was
He'd make another picture; this time he'd win. But when
he went to the bank, they refused to lend him money. Was it
possible that the Great Griffith couldn't borrow enough to
make a picture? It was possible, indeed.
He would have to give up his studio at Mamaroneck. A
studio could not survive that made only one picture a year. A
studio was like a factory: it had to be kept going at full
capacity. So he gave up working for himself and got a job di-
recting for Paramount.
Jazz was all the go. He would direct jazz. That was a long
way from white rabbits, but he plunged into it. His jazz pic-
ture was a failure. The try showed that a person had to do the
kind of picture that was deep in him, something he believed in,
and which was not a faint copy of someone else. He still be-
lieved in a girl with dewy lips and starlit eyes, but there was no
demand for that kind of girl.
A new star was in the sky— W. C. Fields. Griffith was given
a story called Sally of the Sawdust with Fields, Carol Dempster,
and Alfred Lunt. When the picture was previewed, Carol
Dempster, so Broadway said, talked Griffith into cutting down
Fields' role and building hers up. The company reshot several
scenes; indeed, it spent $25,000, according to brother Albert,
He Starts Downhill 169
for that very purpose. When the picture was again assembled
and released, August 1925, the reviewers looked on Carol with
cold and aloof interest, but for Fields they got out their ad-
jectives, saying, "Why isn't there more of Fields?" But Grif-
fith, with his uncertain judgment of comedy, couldn't see this;
he could see only the charming and delightful Carol.
So great was her hold on him, that he starred her in another
picture— That Royle Girl— released in January 1926.
I asked Edwin Balmer if he had any memories of That
Royle Girl and Griffith. He said:
"Griffith always liked to have a theme and the one in my
book appealed to him. This is the theme: the idea that, out of
the welter and strife of life in our big cities and from among
people with little of the traditional good birth and breeding,
there is arising as stanch and trustworthy an American as any
descended from a passenger on the Ad ay flower.
"My best personal memory is not of Carol Dempster, but of
W. C. Fields. It was his second appearance on the screen. He
played the part of 'Dads' so well that his is the one character-
ization that stands out today in my mind. Oh yes! one other
point. The advertisement in the Chicago papers said that the
story had mystery, jazz, comedy, thrills, romance, drama, and
a cyclone. I was stumped by the last named. There hadn't been
a cyclone in my story. I rushed to the theater and there, in the
story, was a wonderful cyclone. It had nothing to do with the
story, but it was a rip-roaring cyclone. I felt proud of it."
The same thing happened. There was too much Fields,
Carol Dempster said, and too little of herself. Griffith himself
trimmed Fields down until he was as fleeting and shadowy as
Tinker Bell. And again the critics looked at Carol and cheered
for Fields. Still Griffith remained her champion.
Out of a clear sky came exceedingly good news.
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William Randolph Hearst wanted to see him. The meeting
was arranged by Walter Howey. then Hearst's favorite editor.
Griffith met Howey. and after a little of this and a little of
that, Griffith was ushered into the Presence. There they
stood, the two men a bit alike in build and feature— Hearst
with his hawklike expression and Griffith with his great beak
of a nose. In backgrounds and tradition the two were wholly
unlike. Hearst was the son of Harvard; Griffith hadn't gotten
into high school. But here, for this moment, the two were
The situation soon developed. Hearst had bought the
motion-picture rights to the Barrie play Quality Street and
wanted to star Marion Davies.
"I want you to direct it, Mr. Griffith, and I'm prepared to
pay you ten thousand dollars a week and give you fifty-one
per cent interest in the film."
Griffith could hardly believe his ears. Ten thousand dollars
a week! Of course Linda would get 15 per cent, but a tidy
sum would still be left. On top of the salary there was the
division of profits.
It was a great, an exciting moment, but—
4 'I'm afraid I can't. Mr. Hearst. I have another commit-
The other "commitment" was his word to Carol Dempster;
he had promised her she would be the star in his next picture,
and he would live up to his promise.
Finally the interview was over, and Griffith left.
The picture was directed by Sidney Franklin and was rated
One day Carol Dempster approached Griffith as he was
sitting in his director's chair filming a scene. Immediately he
H« Start* Downhill 1-1
was ill attention; he was puzzled why she had come, vet de-
lighted to see her. She was always, he thought, doine the un-
They talked a few moments, then she bent toward him and
lowered her voice. "D. YV., I have something to tell vou. I hope
you will take it right. I'm going to be married."
He tried not to show he was shocked, but a little of life
seemed squeezed out of him.
She was. she continued, going to marrv a broker.
She left almost as suddenly as she had come. He began aeain
to direct the scene.
En all. he had her in twelve pictures. Variety said that he
and the companies that financed these pictures spent $2,500,000
to make her a star.
At about this time a girl from Bellaire. a small town on Long
Island, went with her mother to a chanty bazaar at the Astor
Hotel. It was a stuffy affair. People who had never seen each
other before and hoped they would never see each other again
talked energetically, as if enjoying even,- wonderful moment.
The guest of honor was D. YV. Griffith, the great director,
the man everybody was talking about.
The girl was Evelyn Mar j one Baldwin.
As she was sitting there. Grirnth walked across the floor,
all eves upon him. He had on a high collar, a lone-tailed after-
noon coat, and an Ascot tie. the very pink of male perfection.
The women gathered around him. as bees around a honey jar.
In spite of the buzzing around him. Griffith's eves fell on
Evelyn and they lighted up. and well they might, for she was
He stalked bv her. looking: intently at her as he did so. then
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turned and stalked back, his eyes again upon her, as a person,
who has long been in prison, might gaze upon a sunset.
Turning, he came up and stood towering above her.
"You're Little Nell," he said, then turned and again took
up his pacing.
At the far side of the room, he paused and his eyes again
beheld the sunset. Coming back, he said, "You're Little Nell,"
then walked on again.
At last, by a miracle such as can happen only in a crowded
bazaar, he managed to get a seat next to her.
He tried to talk to her, but earnest ladies came up and inter-
rupted. Finally he said, "I guess you think this is a bit odd,
and, for that matter, it is. I'm going to make Dickens' Old
Curiosity Shop and I think you could play Little Nell."
"I'm not an actress," the astonished girl managed to say.
"That's a good sign. You haven't any preconceived ideas.
I've taken a hundred who've never acted before and turned
them into actresses."
He said, as they talked, that picture making was always on
his mind, even in the throes of a public function.
When time came for the bazaar to break up, Griffith re-
turned to the girl and her mother, and asked if he might call.
The girl, rather overwhelmed, said he could.
What a puzzling world he was moving in, Griffith thought.
Once he had been sure of himself; had looked on himself as a
genius. Now . . .
He was not so arrogant. Instead of wanting to attract at-
tention, he began to evade it. He no longer strutted through the
lobby of the Hotel Astor. His attitude was "he would show
them," and he worked harder than ever at his writing. He sent
He Starts Downhill 173
a play to a manager; even his great name did nothing for it.
Back it came. But he did not give up; some way or other he
would yet be the American Ibsen.
He was more contemptuous than ever of motion pictures.
Motion-picture theaters were still opiate palaces. Sometimes he
would go to an opening; there he would sit, his cane in front of
him, his hands clasped over its head, glaring at the screen.
Sometimes, halfway through the picture, he would get up and
He tried again with Drums of Love, starring Lionel Barry-
more and Mary Philbin, released in February 1928. It at-
tracted little or no attention. He signed up two new stars and
made The Battle of the Sexes, released in October that same
year. It was a failure. He was growing desperate. Everything
he turned his hand to failed.
From time to time he went to the movie theaters. They
hadn't improved in ten years; more and more they were ap-
pealing to the simplest minds, he said. He'd make one more
film, then get out of the miserable business. But he was still
what was called a "big spender." He had an Italian car and a
driver, and liked to sit in the back seat and drive down Broad-
way and through Times Square so people could see him and
ask who he was.
Hollywood and picture making had undergone a radical
change. At first a man could get a cast around him, rent space
from a studio, get a small amount of money, and make a picture
which would be released on a percentage basis. But all that had
changed. Pictures had become "big business." It took a big
studio to encompass a picture and it took a big organization to
sell it; and mostly a picture was sold to the exhibitors before it
was made. The small, so-called "independent" producer was
iJ4 Star Maker
being squeezed out. Pictures were becoming standardized. But
Griffith was not one to make a run-of-the-mill product. He
thought of the art rather than of how much the picture was
going to cost, or how it was going to be sold. The business
office said he was not "cooperative."
TALKING PICTURES COME IN
A CHANGE CAME. FROM THE TIME HE HAD GOT
into pictures, pictures had been changing. First, there had been
the nickelodeons; then longer pictures had come. Then story-
telling. The directors had, in reality, set up their cameras and
photographed a story as they would a stage play, with never
a change of position of the camera. Griffith righted all this;
the camera began to follow an actor like a farmer's dog fol-
lowing the farmer to town. The two-reel picture came in;
then came the mighty four-reeler— Judith of Bethulia. Then
came the day of the great outdoors spectacle. Griffith had in-
troduced music; it was on recorded disks, but it sounded like
music. Also he had introduced an orchestra which was to sit
in a pit and play its head off.
The industry was drifting toward sound. Men shut away in
the Bell Laboratories were experimenting and tinkering, but
Hollywood paid little attention to this foolishness. Then came
August 6, 1926; the place the Manhattan Opera House, in
New York City. There was a flash, and on the screen appeared
Will H. Hays, so-called "czar" of the motion-picture industry.
He said he was introducing something that was going to revo-
lutionize motion pictures— the Vitaphone. He talked from the
screen, but his voice came from a wax disk tucked away out of
sight. He was not exactly right, for the device revolutionized
nothing at all.
ij6 Star Maker
But something did revolutionize the screen. The year 1927
came and Warner Brothers prepared to exhibit a film in which
there would be singing and talking, and the sound would be
in the film itself and not on wax. It was to be called The Jazz
Singer and the star was to be Al Jolson. In it Jolson said, "Come
on, Ma, and listen to this"— the first words ever spoken on film.
The result was electrifying— The Thing was talking.
In this picture Al Jolson, who was born in Russia, sang
touchingly of his old southern mammy.
(When Warner Brothers had approached Jolson to do the
picture, they said they would pay him in stock. Jolson was an
old hand at pictures and astutely demanded cash. He was paid
in cash, thus escaping becoming a rich stockholder.)
It was not long until there was a meeting of the Academy of
Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. What was to be done with
The Thing? D. W. Griffith got to his feet and spoke movingly,
denouncing what he called "this new device" as a menace to
a marvelous art. "It's a noisy monstrosity," he said feelingly.
"It is a chattering horror. It will destroy all we have accom-
plished in creating a new art. It has no beauty— and beauty is
the very basis of pictures. It has no soul. It mouths only gib-
berish and we should unite against it."
He sat down to tremendous applause.
They would all unite against it.
Meantime, Warner Brothers were moving ahead with the
chattering horror. The picture earned them $3,000,000 and was
such a tremendous success that Warners completely switched
to sound and pretty soon were sitting on top of the Hollywood
One day Mary Pickford came to Griffith's studio— no curls
now, but as lovely and appealing as ever. She was now the
best-known woman in the world.
Talking Pictures Come In ijj
"I'm making my last silent picture," said Mary. "It's going
to be released under the title My Best GirV
This was something to think about. The idea lay in his mind
like a seed in the soil.
He was engaged by United Artists to make another picture,
this one to be called Lady of the Pavements. He was sinking
into obscurity so fast that he had to get stars as best he could.
None wanted to be with The Master. The ones he got, finally,
were Lupe Velez and William Boyd— the latter was to become
Hopalong Cassidy. He rushed the picture through, giving it
none of the painstaking care he had used when he had been
making his "big" pictures. When it was finished and he looked
at it in the projection room, he said it was good enough for the
kind of people who went to the movies. The picture was re-
leased in March 1929. It was a failure.
At last Griffith decided to make the Big Step. The other
directors, he reasoned, would direct a picture as they had done
when the movies had first come in, like a stage play. They
would have the actors make full-arm gestures and exaggerated
body movements. He would know something they didn't— and
this was to keep as far away from the stage as possible. Movies,
in that sense, had no relationship to the stage.
In writing his history of the War Between the States, he had
become greatly interested in Abraham Lincoln who had been
born not so far from where he himself had come into the world.
In The Birth of a Nation he had shown the assassination. And
now Griffith began to weigh the idea of telling the Lincoln
story. Finally he began to write the story, as he had written so
many for himself to produce. These were fine, exquisite
moments, with no editor to send the story back.
At last it was done. But who could he get to play Lincoln?
ijS Star Maker
At last he hit on Walter Huston, a Canadian; and on Una
Merkel to play Ann Rutledge. Just the team.
He flew into his work with his old-time vigor. He'd soon
be a director to reckon with.
The craze for talking pictures swept the country, like measles
through a school. It was soon found that a poor talking picture
would draw better than a good silent picture. One harried ex-
hibitor said, "If you have a talking picture, you have to put up
barricades to keep 'em out; if you are playing a silent picture,
you have to tell 'em you've scattered diamonds under the
It was not long until there was a series of billboards across
the country with just two words— words that electrified the
nation: Garbo Talks.
All actors wanted to talk. But it was going to be rough on
their egos. It was discovered that many of the actors, who
looked regal on the screen, had voices like sissies; off the screen
they went. On the other hand, it was also discovered that some
of the chinless ones had fine, rich, impelling voices; onto the
screen they went. John Gilbert had been the Great Lover of
the Screen. He had made a million women discontented with
their dull husbands. He spoke for the first time. A million
women heard him and went cheerfully back to their husbands.
But things did not go well with John Gilbert. His voice was
thin, high-pitched, and squeaky. His contract was not renewed
and he committed suicide.
Griffith found the new medium trickier than he had thought.
Instead of simplifying problems, sound had increased them.
Making a picture was just twice as difficult as it had been. All
Hollywood was making talking pictures. Even Mack Sennett
had his Bathing Beauties talking. It was soon discovered that
their appeal was not in their pear-shaped tones. Charlie Chaplin
Talking Pictures Come In 179
himself was soon to talk; this proved to be a mistake. In fact,
about the only actor in Hollywood who didn't talk was Lon
Chaney, and he played deaf-and-dumb parts. And so ran the
world away. Talk. Talk. Gabble. Gabble.
Talking pictures were no longer a novelty; in fact, some
embittered souls said they wished the old silents would come
So poor were some of the talkies that a popular libel was
Now and then someone said the day would come when
motion pictures would be made in color. That, of course, was
foolish. Every industry has to have its crackpots.
It was at this time that his Abraham Lincoln was released.
The exact date was August 24, 1930.
The exhibitors, who had expected another The Birth of a
Nation, were disappointed; it was just a "programmer," with
little southern appeal.
The critics regarded it as "just another picture." There were
many fine Griffith touches, but as a whole it was down at the
far end of the table. Compared to his great pictures, it was a
It was just one year later that James Cagney, in a picture,
squashed a grapefruit in a girl's face. This shocked the country;
the pretty, demure Griffith girl was over the hill. The Sennett
girl was packing 'em in.
These were hard days for the man who had once been The
Master. A comfort and solace was Evelyn Baldwin, whom he
had met that evening at the charity bazaar at the Hotel Astor.
She was sweet and appealing, and was the first girl who inter-
ested him who was not an actress.
His old friends had become rich and famous. Douglas Fair-
banks was popular wherever film would run through a pro-
180 Star Maker
jector. Charlie Chaplin had the world at his feet; every time he
twirled his cane, people fell out of their seats. Thomas H. Ince
was creeping up as Griffith's rival. Cecil B. De Mille was mak-
ing "big" pictures. W. C. Fields was beginning to be talked
about. Clara Bow, to whom Griffith had once refused a part,
was the "It" girl and was making a million husbands look at the
dirty dishes in the kitchen sink with a cold and critical eye.
Griffith got lower and lower in his mind. But he had no in-
tention of giving up. He had once been supreme. He would be
His judgment of humor continued to be uncertain. Anita
Loos wrote for him a story entitled His Picture in the Paper.
It was directed by John Emerson and, finally, was finished.
Griffith came to see the new baby.
The picture was run off in the projection room. He yawned
his way through it. When it was finished he said, "It won't do.
The laughs do not come from what the people do but from
the lines that are flashed on the screen. People do not come to
the theater to read. Put it on the shelf."
And there it lay, gathering dust. And then came a new
situation. Roxy— S. L. Rothafel— had booked for his theater
in New York a film version of Macbeth and had advertised it
extensively. But the film didn't arrive. He waited till the last
moment, looking wistfully into the street for a motorcycle,
but none came. Only the audience.
At the last possible moment arrangements were made to
show His Picture in the Paper in place of Macbeth. The film
was taken from the shelf, the dust blown off, and inserted into
the projector, Griffith groaning.
The audience began to pay attention. Soon it was laughing,
such gales as hadn't been heard in a long time.
When the picture was finished and it was evident it was
Talking Pictures Come In 181
going to be a substantial success, Griffith had a perplexed ex-
pression on his face.
"I can't understand why the audience laughed at what the
characters said instead of what they did."
Griffith judgment of humor continued to be erratic. Once
he said, "I want to study it more," and he did study it, fiercely
The picture itself marked the introduction of satire to films
and was the picture that established Douglas Fairbanks.
Evelyn was a comfort, and to her he turned as a flower to
Most writers want people to read what they've written but
Griffith had always been secretive about this. Now, as he came
to know Evelyn better, he read his poetry to her and showed
her his plays. She encouraged him. Here was someone who
appreciated his talent.
Meantime he was being forced onto the shelf by the insist-
ent demand for "standardized pictures"— pictures any director
could make. Instead of being a towering figure, he was in
competition with all the directors of Hollywood. He had
once dominated Hollywood; now he was glad to get a picture
to direct. He had been a big spender, a lavish tipper, but now
his money was running downhill. And always there was the
"settlement money" he had agreed, so long ago, to give Linda.
Once he had walked with the mighty, now he wanted to
have as his friends lesser men who would look up to him and
treat him with deference.
He gave up his Indian clubs. Too much trouble, he said.
He made engagements but forgot them. When the disap-
pointed person got in touch with him and reminded him what
iSi Star Maker
he had done, he was genuinely sorry and tried to make up for
his remissness by being exceedingly kind.
In 193 1 his luck changed. He was given the opportunity to
direct a story written by Anita Loos and her husband John
Emerson. It was to deal with prohibition. He was delighted.
This was his old formula— a social problem handled in the
terms of storytelling.
But he would have to put money of his own into it, the
studio said. He hesitated, then finally agreed. Raising his share
of the money was hard, but he managed it.
The first person he chose was Evelyn. Stars were becoming
hard to get. He now got Hal Skelly, Zita Johann, and Helen
Mack. The picture was made in the old Edison Studio in the
Bronx— the very studio where he had fought the eagle twenty-
four years ago.
The story pointed out the evils of Strong Drink. The
United States was in the grip of a depression; soup lines were
in every city. The people were thinking, not of strong drink,
but of getting something to eat. Moreover, the story was laid
on a depressing slum background. The picture was rushed
through in three weeks.
Everything was against the success of the picture, but he
believed in it. It would be his new start up the ladder.
The picture opened at the Rivoli Theatre, New York,
December 10, 193 1. It lasted two days.
The talk went up and down Broadway that The Master was
through. But Broadway didn't know D. W. Griffith. He was
not through; he would never be through. Once he had had
three pictures running on Broadway at one time. He might
never have that many again, but he would have a big and
important one— something the newspapers would call a "typical
Griffith production," as they had in the old days.
Talking Pictures Come In 183
He began to count up the number of pictures he'd made. He
was astonished he could not remember them all. But this was
understandable, for in the Biograph days he had turned out
two a week, mostly two-reelers; some he had not even gone
to the theater to see before an audience. When his count was
finished, he was astonished to find that he had made 427 pic-
He'd make more.
Whatever was to happen, he had made seven great pictures:
The Birth of a Nation March 19 15
Intolerance September 19 16
Hearts of the World April 19 18
Broken Blossoms May 19 19
Way Down East September 1920
Orphans of the Storm January 1922
Isn't Life Wonderful December 1924
He was still living at the Hotel Astor. He came in quietly,
spoke a few words to the desk clerk, then hastened to his room.
Now he would have the chance to finish the plays he had been
working on— especially The Treadmill, which dealt with the
end of the human race.
He no longer went to The Players, the club that had once
delighted him. He was more and more by himself. Now and
then he dropped in to see a picture, but it was always so poor
that he got up and left.
Then, out of a clear sky, came a triumph: he was voted
the best film director for the year 1930-31. He was delighted;
this would start him going again. But the word got out in
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Hollywood that he was no longer "money," and nothing came
of the honor.
He was like a caged tiger. His rivals were succeeding; he
was accomplishing nothing. But he could find no opening. His
money was growing lower.
He thought his presence might stir up interest, so he went
to Hollywood. The papers reported his arrival, for he was a
name that meant something. And usually he was good "copy."
But he never gave out anything personal about himself. He
had much to say about the industry and the stars he had
worked with, nothing about his private life. He gave out that
he was born in 1881 and told how he had been a reporter on
the Louisville paper. He told an interviewer how he had once
sold a poem to Leslie's Weekly for thirty-five dollars.
He hired a car, as he had done before, and went out to
where he had made his mighty spectacle. The great walls had
just recently been torn down; busses no longer brought tour-
ists to gape. An apartment house was going up on the spot
where the walls had once towered and where the plaster ele-
phants had stood on their hind legs and held out their doubled-
up forelegs; where the Nubian lions had roared, and where
16,000 extras had been served lunch at one time. He moved
here and there, speaking to no one and asking no questions.
After a time he got into his car and left for the Hotel Alex-
andria where he had lived during the Great Days.
He went, later, to see Mack Sennett. He was the same
hearty, tobacco-chewing Mack Sennett. His studio was a bee-
hive. Funny policemen rushed here and there; gay girls strolled
the studio street, enjoying life.
"Come to my office," said Mack. They climbed a ladder to
a strange-looking tower from which Mack could watch the
operations of his madmen. He pushed a chair toward Griffith,
Talking Pictures Come In 185
put his heels on his desk, and began to chew, as a man does
who enjoys himself.
They spoke briefly of the "old days"— the days of the fierce
eagle and The Curtain Pole— but Mack saw that memories
were painful, and dropped the subject.
"Come with me, Mr. Griffith, and I'll show you the new
one." Even now, to the King of Comedy he was "Mr. Grif-
Griffith spread his long frame over a couple of seats and
stared in silence at the beautiful girls and beleaguered police-
"How do you like it?" Mack asked when the film finished.
"I guess you know what the public wants," he said, and
Mack, seeing the anguish in the man's soul, said no more.
He left Hollywood and came back to New York. There
had been no offer.
While he deliberated and turned this way and that, Mary
Pickford, in 1933, appeared in her last motion picture— Secrets,
with Leslie Howard. Her career was over; it had lasted twenty-
four years. What about his own? Was it over?
In 1934 he was called to England by Twickenham Produc-
tions to do a talkie remake of Broken Blossoms, with the voices
inserted into a sound track. He had the old silent picture run
off two or three times, then sat in doubt, pondering what to do
about it. Going to the company, he said, "It's a masterpiece
as it is. I cannot add to it." The British company understood
and the two parted amicably.
What to do now? No longer could he finance himself; mo-
tion pictures were "big business" and it took big companies to
finance them. The little fellow was out.
With his world reputation, maybe he could get a chance to
186 Star Maker
direct a stage play. He called on managers, but they said that he
knew only pictures and made him no offers.
However, an offer came from an unexpected source.
Hinds', which dealt in beauty products, asked if he would do
a radio program for them. He was hurt; talking on radio—
what a comedown to a man who had revolutionized the screen.
Radio! That silly gabbler. The thought came to him that
this might keep him in the minds of the motion-picture officials,
and so he agreed to do two weekly programs, each fifteen
minutes, for thirty-nine weeks. In them he lived in the past,
told stories of the "early days" in pictures. One talk dealt with
the need of radio to find a personality who would be to radio
what Mary Pickford had been to films.
He appeared for the thirty-nine weeks, as agreed.
There were no offers.
HE RETURNS TO HOLLYWOOD
WITH HIGH HONORS,
BUT NO JOB
He was restless, this man who had been
driving so hard all his life. Nothing to do. But something
would open up.
While waiting, he went to Louisville. The Courier-] our nal
sent Francis E. Wylie to see Louisville's most distinguished
son. He talked of the days when he had run the rope elevator
and of the Meffert Stock Company. The reporter compli-
mented him on his great pictures. Griffith grew silent, then
finally said, half-choked: "I'd rather be a second-rate writer
than a first-class director." Then he became silent again.
He went to the house in LaGrange where his mother had
died eighteen years ago. It had been here that she had told him
she wished he had become a preacher. What a fine southern
woman she was, an aristocrat of the old days— days that would
He went to the old farm; some of the rail fence still stood,
but the house was gone, burned down. He started across the
fields to the schoolhouse where he'd gone as a boy. He came to
the creek where the willows had stood the morning he had
seen the face of Christ. How long ago that seemed. Also how
short. But it had influenced his life. Was that the reason he had
put Christ in so many pictures?
1 88 Star Maker
The schoolhouse was no more. At last he left and returned
over the path that he had just come along. Why! there were
now no willows at all.
As a boy he had lived near the Floydsburg Cemetery, and
now he went to the Duncan Memorial Chapel which had been
built to honor the man whose name it bore. Griffith decided he
would honor not only his father but also his family, and had
built and set up in the cemetery a round stone seat as big as a
dinner table, and on the rim of the circumference he had his
family's record carved:
Honorable Salatheal Griffith, England and Virginia— father of
Daniel Wetherby Griffith Captain Daniel Wetherby Griffith,
War of 1812 Colonel Jacob Wark Griffith, Mexican War,
War of 1 86 1 Presented by David Wark Griffith Virtus
He went to Mount Tabor Cemetery to see the family plot,
especially his father's grave. He was filled with emotion— his
father who had really died for the South. He remembered what
David Lloyd George had said about his father's military record,
and a great pride moved through him. His father was a warrior
and a God-fearing man. He would tell all who wished to know
of his father's noble record for The Cause.
One genealogist was not enough; he set two to work look-
ing up the family tree; one was to be in Washington, D.C., the
other in the Filson Club, in Louisville. Each day he came
proudly to the Filson Club library and pored over the records
himself. He had a little gold pencil and jotted down informa-
tion, bending almost tenderly over his notes. He had lost out
in motion pictures, but his was a great family and he was
proud to be a member of it.
When the record was completed, he had a granite stone set
up at the head of his father's grave, and this tribute carved:
He Returns to Hollywood 189
Twice elected to the House of Representatives. Served with
Humphrey Marshall's First Kentucky Cavalry in the Mexican
War. Commanded the first wagon train at this period to cross
the Plains. The Lone Jack Unit, before arrival in California, suf-
fered many attacks. Rescued a party of pioneers at Donner's Lake.
Civil War— organized a company of Cavalry for the Confederate
Service, for the First Kentucky Cavalry. In 1863 became Colonel
of the First Regiment. Five times wounded, twice desperately,
once at Hewey's Bridge, Alabama, May 8, 1862. Once after the
capture of a 1,500 mule train, October 2, 1862. After a number
of Confederates had been repulsed, General Wheeler asked Colo-
nel Griffith to attack. Ten minutes later, the train had been cap-
tured. Suffering from previous wounds at the Battle of Charleston,
Tenn., December 28, 1863, was unable to ride or walk. At a criti-
cal point in the battle, the First Kentucky was ordered by Col.
Griffith to charge. Col. Griffith, not being able to lead his com-
mand on horseback, commandeered a horse and buggy, was
helped in and led his Regiment to a victorious charge, cavalry
probably never before having been led this way in all history.
He became more and more interested in Evelyn. Her father,
a seafaring man, had been lost at sea, the body never recovered.
Evelyn had been living with her mother at Bellaire, Long
Island, and was little more than a schoolgirl when he had met
her at the charity bazaar at the Hotel Astor, during which
he had said she was "Little Nell." (He had not made the
picture; a British version had been brought to the United
States and he had dropped the idea of doing the story.) There
was twenty-four years' difference in their ages; to him this
seemed a small matter. She took up the study of shorthand
and typing in order to be of help in his writing. He would, he
said, dictate his stories to her.
As Evelyn meant more and more to him, he decided to sue
for divorce from Linda. Evelyn, now quite efficient in stenog-
raphy and typing, accompanied him to Louisville. The city
again welcomed him. And there, the day before Christmas,
190 Star Maker
1935, he entered suit. The divorce was granted February 28,
1936, and he and Evelyn were married a few days later in the
Brown Hotel in Louisville.
Hardly had he been married before an exceedingly good
piece of news smiled on him: he was to be given the award of
the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences— the highest
honor Hollywood could bestow. He would now be able to
get a job and again would be important.
He and Evelyn went to Hollywood and there, at the head
table, the two sat surrounded by Hollywood's stars, many of
whom he had made. When the time came, he was called on to
speak. There he was!— the man who had influenced motion
pictures more than anyone who had ever lived. The greats of
Hollywood suddenly seemed to realize what he had done for
them, and gave him a stirring ovation. He accepted the plaque
with an appropriate speech. The audience applauded— it was
thrilling to have the Great Man back.
He remained several days. But no offer came.
He heard of an opening in San Francisco and there he and
Evelyn went, May 10. The town was excited— a movie was
being made. He went to see the director— W. S. Van Dyke—
the young man who had been a minor assistant in the filming
of Intolerance. Now he was an important director, and was
making San Francisco. He had 3,000 extras, a great number,
the papers said.
Van Dyke spoke to The Master with great respect. "All I
know I learned from you, Mr. Griffith." And now, for old
times' sake, he asked Griffith if he would direct a scene.
Griffith was delighted. The world had changed. No mega-
phone—a microphone, now. Not merely one Billy Bitzer, but
During the making of the scene Griffith walked with a
He Returns to Hollywood 191
quick step and talked in a confident voice— again the man who
had directed 16,000 extras from a balloon.
When he finished, he said, "I hope the scene turns out all
"It will," said Van Dyke.
And it did.
He returned to Hollywood. The papers carried the news, for
he was important. But there were no offers. And he did not
have enough money to finance a picture himself.
He took Evelyn to show her where he had made Intolerance.
But the great set had been torn down; real-estate developers
had been at work like beavers. However, it had been passed
along to fame. In 1920 Columbia Pictures had made a docu-
mentary called Screen Snap Shots. A subtitle said, "He was
the greatest director-producer of them all— the Genius of the
Screen." In 1936 the company made another documentary
based on the demolition of the great walls of Babylon. "Work-
men crawl like pygmies over the hands and shoulders of the
statue of Ishtar."
It was all very sad to look at, and, after a time, he and
Later the two went to New York.
When Griffith got there, trouble was sitting on his doorstep:
Linda had entered suit against him, claiming that his divorce
was illegal and that he owed $50,000 in settlement money that
he had agreed to in 19 16. His answer was that he had paid her
and her lawyers more than a million dollars. One statement
came out of his heart: he said that Linda had falsely asserted
she was the author of stories that he himself had written. This
Suit and countersuit. It was all very unpleasant.
He had to go into hiding to keep from being served with
ig2 Star Maker
papers— humiliating to a proud man. He chose New Jersey and
there secreted himself.
The Museum of Modern Art, in New York, had been estab-
lished. Certainly motion pictures were an art, and D. W.
Griffith was their world leader. So the Museum decided to give
a reception to the man who had done so much for pictures,
and a great, a happy time was planned for all. Would he be the
guest of honor?
"What time of day would it be?" he asked guardedly when
"At four in the afternoon," said the Museum.
"I'm not free at that hour," he said.
"If we had it at eight in the evening, would you be free
Griffith weighed this. "I think I could be. Have you a rear
"Why, yes, we have," said the mystified Museum authority.
"I'd like to use that. People are always stopping me on the
street and detaining me," said the modest man.
"It'll be at eight, then," said the Museum representative.
The evening came.
Griffith, with his collar turned up and his hat pulled low
and wearing huge colored glasses, came in the back way. He
scanned the faces of the guests. After a time he took off his
wraps, displaying himself in elegant evening attire, and now,
his mind free, he became the life of the party.
The evening was a tremendous success; everybody was de-
lighted with him.
When the affair was over, he told his hosts good-by, put on
his colored glasses, and crept silently into the night.
Life was moving along. Seemingly not much each day was
happening, but when the days were added up, the change was
He Returns to Hollywood 193
startling. Was that the way of life?— a little each day, a great
deal at the end of the year?
Now came unexpected good luck. At last he was freed from
legal matters. He was overjoyed. He could be his own master.
In 1938 he took Evelyn and went as fast as he could clop to
A reporter found him.
"I'm dead to the world of motion pictures," he said in his
lofty way. "I'm an author," he added proudly. "I never liked
the movies when I was working in them. Directing was just a
job and I looked on it as temporary. My lifetime ambition has
been to write, and now I can do it."
A strange quirk of psychology took place: the thing he had
been trying to attain for years— a chance to write— was not so
alluring as he had thought it would be. He began putting off,
from day to day, his writing. He let little matters interfere.
Each morning he and Evelyn had breakfast together; he
drank two cups of coffee, then began to dictate. After a time
she handed him the pages; he made changes, passed them back,
and again the typewriter clicked.
He would want to take a walk, or he would have a long-
distance telephone call. When a telephone call came in, he
would complain that he could not work because of the inter-
He sent his stories out, proudly signed with his full name.
They came back. He worked on The Treadmill. It had a
moving, an exciting idea; it would succeed. He sent it to man-
agers. It came back.
It was not all bad news. Liberty accepted an article on the
movies. It appeared June 17, 1939. He thought of his poem
in Leslie's Weekly and spoke of it proudly.
He was not so thrilled now to see his article as he had been
194 Star Maker
to see his poem, but, on the other hand, it was rewarding to
have something in print in a magazine. It was not long before
letters began to come in to him as a director— mostly wanting
jobs. Ordinarily he did not pay any attention to letters that
came to the studio, but this was different. As an author, he
answered every one.
He became discontented with Miami; it did not have the
right atmosphere for a writer, he said, and left.
The country became excited over a great super-picture—
Gone with the Wind. Especially was Griffith intrigued, for
it, too, was a story of the South and the War Between the
States. But picture making had changed. To make Gone with
the Wind had taken three years, instead of the seven months
he had spent on The Birth of a Nation, and it had taken
thirteen scenario writers, three directors, and had cost
At last, in December 1939, came the opening date in At-
lanta, Georgia, for Gone with the Wind. The mayor declared
a three-day holiday and asked the men to raise sideburns, or
imperials, and the women to appear in hoopskirts and the things
that go with them. This they did; and again people marched
down Peachtree Street, but this time no fiery crosses, no
regalia, no pistols, no Ku Klux Klan. The world had changed,
One of the impressive scenes in the picture was the one in
which the railroad depot was turned into a mighty hospital
for the care of the wounded and dying. Griffith looked at it
"I got the same effect with a close-up of a few dead bodies."
He was eager to get news of his old associates. The Reverend
Thomas Dixon was in Raleigh, North Carolina, in real estate,
but was not doing well, the word was. The money he had
He Returns to Hollywood 195
made from The Birth of a Nation was getting away from him.
A Democrat all his life, he had been forced to take a small
appointed clerkship job from a Republican— a downright dis-
grace, so they said in Raleigh. Richard Barthelmess had gone
to Southampton, Long Island, where he had bought a potato
farm and where he was a favorite in the social set. Billy Bitzer
was now working for a small salary for the Museum of Modern
Art, New York, arranging and classifying the D. W. Griffith
films. At his home, 109 West Sixtieth Street, New York, he
had rigged up a laboratory where he was experimenting with
the making and developing of film. The Gish sisters were
appearing on the stage, having, for the most part, given up pic-
tures. Lionel Barrymore was growling his way through film
after film. Douglas Fairbanks was still leaping from place to
place, but not quite so energetically. Alfred Lunt was now a
Broadway favorite. The world was still mysteriously laughing
at Mack Sennett's pretty girls and dumb policemen. Charlie
Chaplin's tramp was becoming more and more unaccountably
famous. W. C. Fields was moving on to greater and greater
glory. Carol Dempster was forgotten. Bobby Harron had com-
mitted suicide. What a strange and puzzling world this was.
And then, as dazzling as a stroke of lightning, came
exceedingly good news. Hal Roach wanted him to direct
1,000,000 B.C. Griffith was delighted. Hollywood needed him.
Griffith thought of the picture he'd made so long ago—
Maris Ascent. It had dealt with Darwin's theory. The business
office had said it was doomed to failure— anything was doomed
to failure that dealt with how men came into the world, except
as related in the Bible. But he had gone ahead and made it and
it had been an outstanding success— the exhibitors couldn't
Well, he would make a bigger and better one now. The two
ig6 Star Maker
men completed negotiations August 18, 1939. The film would
say, "Produced by D. W. Griffith." The old days had returned.
Why! this was just thirty-one years after The Adventures of
Dolly. Motion pictures had come a long way since then. Had
When he arrived in Hollywood in 1940 he was a new man.
Although he was sixty-five, he walked with a quick step. His
old arrogance returned. He would whip the extras into shape.
He would do a picture with a Message.
He soon discovered he was not the free agent he had be-
lieved himself to be. He must bow to the business office; he
could do nothing without written authority— he who had once
ridden so imperiously over the business office. In addition he
discovered that his connection with the film was partly for
publicity and that the business office did not take him seriously.
It was a shock.
He resigned. The New York Times , April 20, 1940, reported
that he had ordered his name removed from all credits.
A dinner was given him by the people of Hollywood who
admired him so greatly. When his time came to speak, he got
up and began, "Is there anybody here who would be willing
to lend me ten dollars?" The people laughed; he was being at
his humorous best, they said.
After dinner Mack Sennett came up and said, "You're still
our head man, Mr. Griffith."
He remained in Hollywood a month longer, hoping some-
thing would "turn up," then he and Evelyn came back to New
He would not go into the picture palaces; they had silly and
inconsequential pictures, he said, and used again the phrase
that was coming oftener and oftener to his lips— "pictures are
opiates for the masses."
He Returns to Hollywood 197
He received a shock. Tom Mix was killed. Griffith had
watched his career with a kind of lofty scorn. Mix could not
act; he could only ride. But he had made money. Things, how-
ever, had not gone well with him. He had retired from the
movies and had joined the Sells Floto Circus, a comedown. The
circus idea had played out and he had joined the "Torn Mix
Wild Animal Circus." He had given this up and gone into
making serials, a still further comedown, Griffith believed.
And now on this day— October 12, 1940— Mix had been killed
in an automobile road accident near Florence, Arizona. When
this had happened, Mix was on his way out of popular favor.
Griffith studied this, too.
Not longer after this he read depressing news. Edwin S. Por-
ter was the man who had made the immortal The Great Train
Robbery, the first person in the world to tell a story on the
screen. Yes, the very man who had given Griffith a job in
Rescued from an Eagle's Nest. Porter had loved Broadway,
which he had helped to make, and when his last days had come
upon him, he had moved into the Hotel Taft, in the heart of
the theatrical section, and there, in a silk dressing gown, had
sat in an easy chair by a window so he could look down at
the swarming crowds. Few of the people had ever heard of
him. But that was all right; he'd had an exciting and successful
life and there, in the hotel, the papers said, he had died April
There suddenly swept down on the country a flood of pic-
tures dealing with World War II. During the year 1942 sixty
pictures were released that dealt in some way with war. Mostly
they were pictures thrown together hastily and carried little
meaning. Six companies rushed to the ex-Hays office to register
the title Remember Pearl Harbor.
Some of the pictures Griffith liked. The best, he said, was
198 Star Maker
Sergeant York, the simple, faithful, touching portrayal of a
young Kentucky boy, of a religious background, involved in a
vast struggle which he didn't understand.
Others he liked were Mrs. Miniver and Casablanca. The
poorest, he said, was Mission to Moscow, taken from a book
signed by Joseph E. Davies, dealing with his days in Russia.
Griffith wanted to return to his early surroundings, where
once he had felt secure, and with Evelyn once more went to
Kentucky. This time he did not stop in Louisville but hastened
to LaGrange. He moved into the house where his mother had
told him she wished he had become a preacher. He would write
now. Evelyn had brought her machine, but this was not enough
—he hired another girl and now, with two secretaries, began
to write. The big moment had come. The dream he had
cherished for so many years was now an actuality.
He sent the stories out.
He had a box at the post office and himself went after the
mail. When a story came back, he felt personally humiliated
and tried to hide the rejection even from Evelyn.
He became discouraged; he said he must return to New
York. As soon as he arrived in New York, he wanted to leave.
He complained about not feeling well. He gave up his Indian
clubs; he said he got enough exercise without flopping painted
He began to pick out weaknesses and shortcomings in the
motion-picture business. Many years before, he had been par-
ticularly shocked by the accusations made against Fatty Ar-
buckle. The comedian, in a night of debauchery, was accused
of causing the death of a girl devoted to satisfying the wishes
of men. There'd been nothing like this in the early days, he
said. He regarded pictures sourly; rarely did he have a good
word to say about any picture. "There hasn't been an advance
He Returns to Hollywood 199
in ten years," he said. "The things Billy and I invented are
being proclaimed as new and revolutionary. It makes me sick
at the stomach."
He began going to the theater alone. He would buy two
seats, put his coat and hat on one, and sit through the whole
performance without speaking to anyone. His presence would
become known and people would come up, but he evaded
them. The moment the curtain was down, he hastened out as
if pressed by some great business matter.
His restless nature made it necessary for him to keep oc-
cupied. He had contributed his film and negatives to the
Museum of Modern Art; the material had been catalogued.
Billy Bitzer, when things were not going well for him, had
worked on it and had saved many feet of precious negative.
The work was done and was successful. But not to D. W. He
insisted on going to the Museum and running the film back-
ward and forward, as he had done with Jimmie Smith so many
years ago. He would hold a strip of the ancient film before him,
close one eye, and inspect the film. Then, picking up the scis-
sors, he would snip out the part he didn't like. The Museum
tried to get him not to make any changes, but their pleas meant
nothing to him. Out would go another section of negative.
He cut several hundred feet from Intolerance. "It's better
now," he said when he finished.
Billy Bitzer sent word that he was ill, and would Mr. Griffith
come to see him? Indeed, he would. Soon Griffith was at Billy's
bedside in Saint Vincent's Hospital. Billy's hands were stained,
as they always were— those amazing, square, blunt-fingered
hands that had turned the crank on so many great pictures.
And there were blue scars on them from powder burns made
during the filming of The Birth of a Nation.
200 Star Maker
His savings were gone; he had lost everything he had, ex-
perimenting with colored motion pictures.
"How're you, Billy?" Griffith said, to be cheerful.
"Not well, not well. I don't know what is de matter mit me,
but I have it all over."
The two talked of the early days— days when they had made
world history. Billy managed a laugh. "You do not fight de
eagle any more?" he said teasingly.
"You remember how you complained about the Clansmen's
horses knocking your camera out of position? And how you
never mentioned how close you came to being stomped to
death by their hoofs? Do you remember that, Billy?"
"Yah. We was young den, Mr. Greeffith, is it not zo?"
"Pictures need something to build them up, they're so poor,"
said Griffith bitterly. He must cheer Billy up, not pull him
down. "Tell me how you photographed William McKinley
being notified on the lawn of his home that he had been nomi-
nated for President of the United States."
"You know dat ten t'ousand times I have tell you." But
Billy did, at Griffith's urging, recount some of it over again.
"What're you working on now, Billy?"
"Motion pictures mit color."
"They'll never go, Billy. Color will take people's minds from
"I don't t'ink it is zo."
"You didn't think I could make a four-reeler."
"I t'ink lots of dings wrong, but not dis one."
"You'll see, Billy."
At last Griffith left.
When Mary Pickford heard that Billy was ill at a charity
hospital she arranged to have him moved to Saint Luke's where
He Returns to Hollywood 201
she paid his expenses from February 25, 1940, for the month
he was there.
Billy Bitzer died April 29, 1944, and was buried in Cedar
As the years had gone along, Griffith, from time to time,
had heard from the Reverend Thomas Dixon. The news he
had received was not good. And then, one day, when Griffith
picked up the paper, there was the news that the author of
The Clansman had died. The date was April 3, 1946, and the
place was Raleigh, North Carolina, and there in Raleigh he
Griffith's friends and comrades of other days were going
fast. He picked up the paper— bad news again: William S. Hart
had died June 23, 1946— the great William S. Hart whose
screen career had lasted only eleven years. After he was no
longer wanted on the screen, he had busied himself writing
boys' books— this man who once had electrified the world. In
a few days Griffith saw something in the paper that made him
blink— William S. Hart had left an estate of $1,170,000.
For some time things had not been going well between him
and Evelyn. It had been a long time since he had looked at her
and had exclaimed, "You're Little Nell!" and a long time since
she had learned shorthand and typing. Then he had been
planning to do The Old Curiosity Shop, with Evelyn as Little
Nell, but a British version of the story had been released in this
country, and he had given up the idea. But now conditions
between him and Evelyn were different. She had been in The
Struggle, the only picture she had appeared in that he had
He had drawn into himself and sometimes read for half a day
without speaking. Then suddenly he would rouse himself, de-
termination would flood through him, and he would say he
202 Star Maker
was going ro make a new career for himself. But in this he v
defeated before he began. He had no money to make a picture
as he'd had in the old davs; exhibitors looked on him with open
suspicion. His last pictures hadn't made money; two days on
Broadway for the last one. He wouldn't make a "commercial"
picture, and that was what Big Business wanted— not an art
picture that got fine reviews and no audiences. There was.
however, one thing into which he could escape, and this was
his writing. He would write a play that would in one great
gesture establish him as an American playwright.
He went to Hollywood, hoping that one of the studios
would send for him. Instead, on October 2, 1947, Evelyn filed
papers for divorce. The reason she gave was that he was a
"bachelor at heart." She asked for separate maintenance— bad
news, for he was almost out of money.
THE FORGOTTEN MAN
He moved into a side-street hotel in Hol-
lywood. Theatrical trunks stood in the room and there were
files for office papers. Battered, paint-scarred Indian clubs lay
piled in the corner.
January 22, 1948, his birthday, came. Seventy-three— the true
date he had hidden so long, but now he did not care. The im-
portant thing was to get on with his writing and he threw
himself into it more earnestly than ever. He had so much to
say, so little time to say it in. He would make the final revision
of The Treadmill. Why! he had been working on that for
fifty-one years. But that was all right. It took time to produce
Now and then doubt came and stood by his side. After all,
was he gifted beyond others? He had contributed more to
motion pictures than anybody who had ever lived, but he
scorned them, and since he scorned them, he looked on him-
self as a failure.
A new idea developed. He would make a world-important
picture about Christ and Napoleon. He would show a boy
seeing the face of Christ in the willows, as he himself had done
that morning on the way to school. He would have the thread
run through the story, as the Rocking Mother had done in
Intolerance. In the story he would contrast the ways of Christ
and Napoleon and would show that the road of love was better
204 Star Maker
than the road of blood. It was a great, a stirring, an important
idea. It would be seventy-two reels long and would run for
eight hours; audiences would have to go for three evenings to
see it all. But they would go willingly— even eagerly— for it
would deal with their souls and why they, themselves, were
on this planet. From the tremendous profits he would have
money enough to produce The Treadmill. He threw himself
into the scenario, writing till dawn, as he had done so many
times before. Now that he had the story, who would produce
it? He did not have enough money; the studios looked on
him as a ghostly figure out of the past.
He felt sensitive about this, and took umbrage easily. Men
who had claimed him as friend found him hard to get along
with. He kept more and more to himself. His tall, erect figure,
with a big flopping hat, walked along the street— the street
where once he had attracted so much attention. A new genera-
tion, however, had come along. He was out of the minds of the
old stars and they paid little attention to him, and he was too
proud to make advances. He became the Forgotten Man of
He let his letters accumulate without opening them, nor did
he open telegrams or answer telephone calls. Once he had
liked to go into the dining room of a hotel, for there had always
been a flutter that the great director had come and could be
seen by anyone who wished, but now he had his meals served
in his room and ate alone and in embittered silence.
Reporters tried to interview him, but he would not see them.
Finally, however, Ezra Goodman, representing P.M., a New
York paper, did get to see him. Griffith talked of how wide his
reading was and how much he had read during his lifetime
and how well he had remembered it. He spoke of the great
new film he was going to direct and of The Treadmill. He
The Forgotten Man 205
said there had been no improvement in motion pictures in ten
years and that forty years earlier he had made movies from
poems and that no one would dare do that today. He spoke of
Fippa Passes and proudly told how it had been reviewed by
the New York Times.
His mind went back, oftener and oftener, to the people he
had known in the early days: Edwin S. Porter, "Mr. Mc-
Cutcheon," as he called him, Billy Bitzer, Mack Sennett, Mary
Pickford, the Gish sisters, the ill-fated Bobbv Harron, who
had committed suicide. Each night he got out his papers and
manuscripts and pored over them, making notes, now and
then, with his little gold pencil.
He began to complain about "not feeling up to par"; it was
the summer heat, he said, for July was upon him. His head
"didn't feel right."
He had relatives in Santa Ana, near Los Angeles, and they
came to see him. He seemed to want to have his family around
him. Some of his nieces and nephews had never seen Crestwood,
nor LaGrange; they had missed a great deal, he said; it w r as
where their family had come from. He spoke of the old farm
and of the death of his father from the five wounds he had
received in the War Between the States. He spoke of his sister
Mattie who had read to him stories of the davs of old, and who
had given him what little education he had. He spoke of the
Meffert Stock Company and of Adolph Lestina who had told
him that to be a playwright one first had to be an actor. He
spoke of the way The Birth of a Nation had been received
and how people had denounced him.
A brain hemorrhage developed. He died in the Temple
Hospital at eight twenty- four on the morning of July 23, 1948.
He had not made a picture in sixteen years and many of the
stars did not know that he was still living. They were saddened,
206 Star Maker
they said, that the greatest director of all had died in obscurity
and poverty. One paper ran the headline Aged Film Man
Passes, and two paragraphs dealing with his career and a men-
tion of what the paper called "the controversial picture" The
Birth of a Nation.
The press associations got out obituary releases; most of them
were wrong, for they were based on the misinformation that,
over the years, had gone into the newspaper files.
Personal Memory, from Mae Marsh:
During his last days, he walked up and down the streets, a lone,
solitary figure. He was acknowledged to be the greatest director
who had ever lived, yet no one gave him a chance to direct. With
John Ford I went to the funeral parlor where the body lay in
state. The attendant told us that only four persons had come to
pay their respects; one of them was Cecil B. De Mille. But next
day, at the funeral, matters were different. The story was in the
papers, and photographers would be present. The picture people
His funeral was a perfunctory one— for Hollywood. Services
were held the next day in the Masonic Temple. A tribute was
paid by Charles Bracken, representing the Academy of Motion
Picture Arts and Sciences, and a eulogy was delivered by
Donald Crisp who had played General Grant in The Birth of
a Nation. He lamented the fact that Hollywood had been cold
to The Master and that Griffith had "beat against the doors of
Hollywood," and that the doors had not opened. The honorary
pallbearers were Lionel Barrymore, John Ford, Samuel Gold-
wyn, Richard Barthelmess, Monte Blue, Charles Chaplin, Cecil
B. De Mille, Sid Grauman, Jean Hersholt, Walter Huston,
Jesse L. Lasky, Louis B. Mayer, Hal Roach, Mack Sennett, and
Lionel Barrymore, in speaking to one of the other mourners,
gave the most personal touch. He said, "A gold monument
The Forgotten Man 20j
should be erected at the corner of Vine Street and Hollywood
Boulevard to D. W. Griffith, Hollywood's greatest."
The body was flown back to Kentucky and taken to Mount
Tabor Cemetery and there he was buried within two miles of
where he had been born.
Two years later Hollywood wanted to express its memory
a little more feelingly than it had done, so through the efforts
of the Screen Directors' Guild the body was taken up and
moved about two hundred feet to a new grave where a stone
was set in place over the grave, with a symbol at each end of
the Screen Directors' Guild. Three of his stars loved him
enough to come. They were Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, and
Richard Barthelmess; also present was Al Rogell representing
the Guild. His widow, Evelyn Griffith, was also there. Fence
rails were taken from the old farm and placed around the grave,
and there they are today, very fitting and appropriate.
On top of the gravestone is carved:
David Wark Griffith
Born Crestwood, Kentucky, January 22, 1875
Died Hollywood, California, July 23, 1948
As I write, two immediate members of his family still live,
and I again want to thank them for the great help they've been
to me. His brother Albert L. Griffith lives at 325 West Avenue,
Medina, New York. His widow, Mrs. Evelyn M. B. Griffith,
lives at 535 East Fourteenth Street, New York. He has six rela-
tives living in Oldham and Jefferson counties, Kentucky, and
he has eight relatives living in or near Los Angeles.
The inventory shows that he left a gross estate of $25,039.97.
There were many bills which he had run up the last few
208 Star Maker
months. He mentioned ten people in his will, all relatives; the
money that was left was divided among them.
As I finish this story, I think to myself: What will be his
place in history? Will he continue to be the Forgotten Man of
the entertainment industry? Will greater figures appear and
stalk across the entertainment stage? I doubt it. And, some
way or other, I hope there won't. He came at the very birth of
a new and mighty art. It can almost be said that he made an art.
There is something touching and poignant about a man who
yearns to do something and fails— and then, in a kind of Fll-
show-you way, makes a commanding success of something he
secretly looks down on. It has, it seems to me, the elements of
the Greek theory of drama: that every man has within him
seeds that make him and seeds that destroy him— sometimes the
l entures of Dolly, The, you'll feel
sorry for the poor child. 31, 106
A Tool a y :.i 1 Girl, his plav, 13. 14. 19.
Aitken. Harry E.. 94. 09
Al Jolson sings touchingly of his
southern mammy. 1-6
Balloon, he uses one to direct a pic-
Barzle j: Elderberry Guleh. The, he
tries his hand at a Western, 65
Bill Bitzer, the great camera genius.
35, 36. ;-. _ 48, 55, 56. 81, 9-, 99.
1:6. 190, 199
Biograph. 24. :-. 36, 4;. S:. 9;. 183
Bi r :h 0/ 1 X^':o 7 :. The. opens, 102
Booth. John Wilkes. 97
Broken Blossoms, story of, begins.
145; you'll like it
Carol Dempster, 125. 13-. 16-, 168,
169, 1-0, 195
Charlie Chaplin. Griffith never under-
stood him. 149. 1-8
Close-up, birth of, A
Color pictures. Griffith fights 'em. 200
Comedy has two X s. 3-
Coward, look under Noel
Crestwood. birthplace, 4. S3. 11-, 20-
Cu r :j:r Pol;. T'-:e. you won't want to
miss this. 45, 88, : ::. 185
David Lloyd George. 132
Death of Griffith. 20;
De Mille. Cecil B.. plays Mary Pick-
ford's brother. 51. 180, 206
De Mflk, Wfflnm C. wrote The
War ia. 5;
DcWolf Hopper sees a rare sight. 124
Dixon. Rev. Thomas, 99. 100, 103, 113.
Duke of W ellington wins by a nose. 3
Evelyn Marjorie Baldwin. 171. 1-9,
181, 189. 190. 191. 193. 196. 19S. 20:.
: : :. 20-
Famous love-sick picture. 10 1
Fanny Ward, first actress to have her
face lifted. 20
Fairbanks. Douglas. 145
Father dies. -
Fields. W. C Griffith didn't think he
was funny. 168. 169. 180. 195. 201
First fan letters, the studio fiehts 'em,
Fred Ott s sneeze, it made history. 75
Gaston de Tolignac, one of Griffith's
writing names. _
Gish sisters, they begin on page 61,
--. 195. 205, and many other places
Gladys Mary Smith. 50
Great Train Robbery, The (first story
picture;. 21. : -
"Griffith Actors." 82
Griffith. Albert L.. 4. 130, 151, 207
Griffith shoots off pistol to get better
acting, at least he eot more acting,
Halt, William S.. ends his career writ-
ing boys' books, 120. 165. 166. i6y,
Holofernes gets his head cut off, audi-
ences delighted. 81
.v. he considered a greater
picture than The Birth, 118
London, they began stealing
from him early. - 5
John Gilbert, the Great Lover, doesn't
do so well. 1-8
Johnson. Arthur, early actor. 53
: : : o' Be-.h-j.li2 dances with a king's
head on a plate. 93. 94. 133. 135. 1-4
Kennedy. Jeremiah J., 58.
Keystone Comedies, how they got
K:d McCoy, the prize fighter. 137, 141.
Ebb problem solved at last, it had
racked many brains. 39
Ku KJtax Klan. 102. 104. in, 194
Lawrence Griffith, uses this name as
an actor. 11,38, ->
Leaves of G r .::s. 9." 121
14. 28. 184, 193
jjesthn, Adolph. actor who helped
Griffith, 10. 135, 155, 205
Linda Arvidson, his first wife. 12. 13,
14. 18. 20. 22. 26. 30. 31. 3:
4-. 49. 66. 6-. 68. 69. 115. 129, 191.
Lionel Barrymore wears a wig. fa, 1 — .
"Little Egypt," she's just what you
Lonely Villa, The, both Alary Pick-
ford and Mack Sennett in this one,
Loos, A., can you recognize her?,
60, 90, 180, 182
Lord Brayington, another of his act-
ing names, 10, 11
Louisville, addresses where he lived, 7
Mack Sennett, "Actor and Comedian,"
41, 43, 44, 74, 86, 87, 88, 90, 161, 184;
acts in the immortal The Curtain
Pole, 45, 46
Mae Marsh, 65, 97, 101, 108, 120, 206
Margery Wilson, 1 20
Married, first time, 14
Mary Pickford (lots about her), bet-
ter begin on page 49
"Master, The," 57, 148
Max Davidson, Louisville actor, 20, 21,
Mayor Mitchell, of New York, 105
McClure's Magazine, 20, 71
McCutcheon, Wallace, 27, 28, 29, 30,
Mefifert Stock Company, where Grif-
fith got his start, 10, 117, 187, 205
"Mr. D. W." was what his actors
Mix, Thomas Edwin, 149, 166, 197
Mother dies, 117
Mount Tabor Church, 4, 83, 188
Mutoscope parlors, 21, 27, 36, 75
Nance O'Neil, famous actress, 12, 13
Nebuchadnezzar, Judith of Bethulia
takes care of him, 80, 81
Noel Coward pushes a wheelbarrow,
Oglesby, his mother's family, 3, 115
Owen Moore, Mary's first, 83, 161
Pickford, Mary, she's everywhere
Fippa Passes, the first film reviewed by
the New York Times, 47, 52, 73, 144,
Porter, Edwin S., the man who made
The Great Tram Robbery, 21, 24,
25, 26, 197
President Lincoln, 96, 98, 177
President Wilson, 103
Pseudonyms of Griffith, 118
Quality Street, 170
Radio comes in, Griffith fails at it, 186
Ramona, Griffith pays $100 for the
book, motion-picture industry pro-
foundly 7 shocked, 11, 59
Recites poems, 6
Rescued from an Eagle's Nest, Grif-
fith heroically fights an eagle, 25,
Roaring Jake, 3, 15
Seven great pictures, 183
Should Women Speak in Mixed
Assemblies?, the book said they
shouldn't, 8, 9
Sir Francis Drake, Griffith plays him
as Sir Francis was never played be-
Sticky names for movie stars, 140
Tallulah Bankhead, 139
Theda Bara, 139, 142
The Treadmill, the play he worked
on for fifty-one years, 14, 34, 162,
183, 193, 203, 204
Tivo Orphans, The, story of, begins
Undoubtedly Griffith influenced mo-
tion pictures more than anybody
who has ever lived.
Violin Maker of Cremona, The, one
of Mary's early ones, 55
Villains were the "carpetbaggers,"
Griffith says, 106
Vitaphone didn't do so well, 174
Walker Whiteside has bad news for
the young actor, 12
Walthall, Henry B., begins 91, 112
Walls of Babylon crumble away, 191
Walls of Jerusalem fall, 159
Way Dozvji East, Griffith pays $175,-
000 for the story; Hollywood
screams could be heard to South
W. C. Fields, 168, 169, 180, 195, 201
I have nothing for X. Sorry.
Youth spent near Louisville, Ken-
tucky. (I almost had no entry for
Zanzibar was never used by Griffith
as the background for a story.